Thursday 4 June 2020

Masters of British Comic Art - Review

Cover by Brian Bolland

This is a long indulgent piece from me - a love letter of sorts to David Roach or more specifically his work in mapping artists and comic history.  Let me say before I start, as soon as you create something there are people who will criticise and that's fine as long as it's done constructively. So hopefully I'll be one of those, as I love this book!
I bought this book because I loved the way David Roach shares his passion for illustrative art in magazines, fine art and comics on social media. I'd read his previous book done in a similar vein: "Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art". The first part is text of the history of comic art with loads of facts, dates, and personalities. The second part is an alphabetical showcase, or gallery of top quality reproductions of artists' works - most from original art. This book is similar but he does break it up slightly by having a 21st century section later in the book with a similar introduction and art.

Now I know a thing or two about UK comics of the 1960s-1970s but would by no means think myself an expert - except in Frank Bellamy's work. The history section - beginning right at the start of 1825 - has a tone that speaks of knowledge and the love of making connections, for example at the start of Chapter Two ("It's a funny old world"), David says "For the next forty years nothing happened". That's a bold statement but once one thinks about it in the context of what he writes, he's right. I'd never made the connection before!  The range of artists and comic titles included will let hardly anyone down. The beauty of the book lies in the illustrations too. Every page in colour and with Roach's catholic tastes well represented.
Full disclosure: He meant to say 'total geeks'!

The artwork is first class in many ways - the choice, the reproduction and seeing some for the first time, gorgeous. I expect a rise in interest to occur in some artists as a result of this book - surely Roach's aim achieved! I've loved Mike Hubbard's work, after 'borrowing' my sister's Princess Tina and reading "Jane Bond" and also the strip "Alona, the wild one" drawn by Leslie Otway. But some of the 40s and 50s artists were new to me and they are gorgeous. Bellamy is very well represented.

Masters of British Comic Art p.50

I've listed all the appearances in the book of Frank Bellamy's work on my Articles about Frank Bellamy page and repeat them here for convenience:
  • pp.49-50 (within "Chapter 5: The Golden Age")
    • "Heros" Eagle Vol.15:31;
    • "Thunderbirds" TV21 #68, p2
  • pp.84-85 (within "Chapter 8: Newspaper Strips")
    • "Garth" G156
  • pp. 146-152 (within the "Artists Gallery") -
    • "Dan Dare: Project Nimbus", Eagle Vol. 11:21;
    • "Fraser of Africa" Eagle Vol. 12:21;
    • "Only the brave" Eagle Vol. 13:38;
    • "Ghost World" Boy's World Vol.1:46;
    • "Heros" Eagle Vol. 14:15;
    • "Thunderbirds" TV21 #232, p2
But all is not well. I may be getting old but the spelling of Tattler, the capitals (The Mirror, rather than 'the Mirror' in the middle of a sentence), simple typos (Pip, Squeak and Wifred = Wilfred) phrases look to be translated (which I doubt) e.g. "dispersing [rather than "dispensing"] with borders entirely" and the many stray inverted commas, all annoy me personally.  I desperately want to know (p.84) what notoriety Conrad Frost went onto - I didn't see it in the text later on - as Bellamy and Frost worked together in the late 60s. There are many typos but none more aggravating to a Bellamy fan than "Frazer of Africa" - even though it's very common. But these can be overlooked in such an exhaustive work (exhausting too when held in the hands - it's so heavy!). I was very grateful for the bookmark too - a silly little thing but lovely.

Errors spotted  - Sparky started in 1965 not 1967 (p.14), I happened to buy one and the eponymous character appeared in the first issue; Hampson's work was called 'The Road of Courage' not 'to Courage', some Christians may be offended by the thought of Jesus needing to build up courage!

Garth strip
Masters of British Comic Art pp.84-85

The biggest failing, I discovered very soon into the text - no index. That would be such a research aid to future comic historians. I could find that reference to Conrad Frost so much easier. There's a piece of information on Tom Kerr which appears in the text, telling us he worked on D.C. Thomson's nursery line of comics, but where? (page 28). If Google Books indexes this, we may find it but it's still simpler to have it in the book! I wonder how many names are mentioned in this book? Also I was surprised not to see a Contents page. A little thing, but did you know this book includes a look at Underground, American and Newspaper Strips? Well that's what a Contents Page is for - there is none. These days with the Amazon "Look Inside" facility, it would seem essential to me.

I can't imagine how you would go about choosing artwork for such a book. I know from his Facebook page that David asked Facebook followers what they would include. He has final say and I'm not arguing. However, I looked for Parlett's work when he says "Reg Parlett worked for almost all the new humor comics" (an index would have helped!) but pages 18-19 only have 2 Baxendale examples. How would he have worked a small image in the text section to accompany comments on Baxendale and Reg Parlett? My mind is blown thinking of the logistics, so he can be forgiven.

Let me finish with telling you that I LOVE this book. All the moans above are trifling but highlight how the book could have been an even better book. It's certainly a lot better than some older more famous books on British comic art and we should all thank David for his brilliant work. Putting together such a lot of facts, stories, artwork and not making mistakes in some areas would be a miracle.

I might even have created errors here myself! let me know if I have!


Kid said...

Shouldn't it be Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, not 'Squeal'? An interesting fact is that Sparky came out the same week as TV Century 21, even though the former was dated 1965 and the latter 2065.

Regarding the capital on 'The', shouldn't that be the way it's done with some names? After all, 'Beano' (as it's called today, no article) used to bear the title of 'The Beano', hence the capital 'T'. Same with newspapers - 'The Times' would surely be 'The Times', not 'the Times'?

I suppose it all depends on whether the 'The' appears in the title or not.

Enjoyed the review, Norman.

Kid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kid said...

Ah, there it is - I do so like to make an appearance, given my natural vanity and need for attention. I'm really a modest and humble chap deep down though.