Monday 13 July 2020

Jim Edgar and John Allard interviews

As so little appears on the Internet about Jim Edgar, the writer of amongst other things, "Garth" which was illustrated by Bellamy I thought it was time to show you this interview and I'm hoping this is a case of John Dakin (who I've tried and failed to track down) forgiving me for publishing his material!

After this is an 'interview' with John Allard by Dakin. Both were conducted in 1980/1 and I've transcribed them below to make them searchable on Google for others to see and appreciate as the historical documents they are!


Back in January 1979 I did some research for an article on Frank Bellamy's Garth, that I had intended to submit to an American fanzine. For one reason or another I never completed the article, so I've decided to include portions of that research in upcoming newsletters. As this newsletter is to accompany (or follow on closely after) the Jim Edgar written "Night of the knives" I thought it would be a good idea to include a short postal interview with Jim Edgar. Please bear in mind that at that time the only aspect of newspaper strips that I was interested in, was Frank Bellamy's work. The questions asked were sometimes quite naive but even so they were answered more than courteously by Mr. Edgar. Needless to say, were I conducting the interview now, it would turn out rather differently. For instance, the more I see of Martin Asbury's version of Garth, the more I like his artwork, so much so that at present I like his work equally as much as Frank Bellamy's. I've just finished reading an old Jim Edgar - Martin Asbury collaboration "Mr Rubio Calls" which I found highly entertaining in both script and artwork; it included a nice satire on the sordid side of city life. Anyway, I think that's enough of the waffle and time to begin the interview.

Q: Could you explain the way in which Garth travels through time, as in the past it has happened in different ways?
JE: Garth's transference backward and forward in time is triggered by a psycho time-switch. It could be atmosphere as in the "Jack the Ripper" story or some force emanating from another period in time. This facility is part of his make-up.
Q: Could you give me a run-down of your past career?
JE: I've worked on the Evening News feature "Matt Marriott" which closed down last year after a run of 22 years, and also "Wes Slade", a western strip in the Sunday Express. Over the past 25 years I have worked over the field of strip cartoons ranging from "Buck Ryan", "Carol Day" and Gun Law", plus numerous assignments on weekly journals. Additionally, various radio plays, short stories and comedy scripts.
Q: Did Frank Bellamy have any say in the scripting or plotting of Garth?
JE: Frank Bellamy had little or no say in the scripting or storyline of Garth. However, some of the stories emerged from discussions between myself and Frank. He certainly was fond of the western aspect and accordingly several westerns were written. Frank usually worked tightly to the scripts which were always written by me.
Q: Did Frank Bellamy do all his own visual research?
JE: I imagine Frank did his own research on Garth. He had a fine library of such material. Sometimes when I planned a story I found for him a source for pictorial reference.
Q: John Allard said he thought that Frank Bellamy had a model for the recurring dark-haired woman in Garth, is this true?
JE: There is no record of any specific model for the dark-haired woman in the Garth stories, she is usually made a brunette because Astra, the goddess-type, who frequently appears in Garth stories at a climactic period, is blonde.
Q: One of my favourite Garth episodes is "Sundance". It was different from the traditional western as it favoured the Indian. What influenced you in writing that story?
JE: Any writer who has studied the western scene from around 1855 to 1890 cannot fail to have an instinctive sympathy for the American Indian. They were virtually wiped out by the sheer pressure of immigration. Whatever atrocities they committed were triggered off by despair and the hopelessness of pushing back the invasion of their tribal lands.
Q: Why has Garth's character (and that of the few supporting characters) never been developed very far during his 35 years? Is it retaining the status quo?
JE: Of course Garth has developed considerably over his incumbency. If you had read the earlier stories of 20 to 50 years ago you would find a vast difference. There is no status quo in the cartoon strip field. Over the years it is inevitable that the hero and his supports must adapt to changing conditions.
Q: Could you give me any other information concerning yourself and your work on the Garth strip?
JE: I have been associated with the Garth strip for around twelve years. The previous writer, Peter O'Donnell wrote it for 15 years prior to that. We worked in the same office block, so that I was as familiar with Garth as perhaps he was, and he wrote a lot of fine Garth stories.
Q: Can you give me any other information on Frank Bellamy's work on Garth?
JE: Frank lived in the village of Geddington. He was the ultra-perfectionist, the only artist I ever met who worried over getting the right shade of black. Garth was the first national strip he ever handled, and I think it was Frank's first true bid for recognition as an artist. I think his chief failing was that he never quite learned to relax on the job. This is a failing of other fine artists I have worked with. Maybe it is endemic to the profession.

Newspaper Strip Society Newsletter #2 (July 1980)
Details of Jim Edgar are thin and there's debate about his place of death.Read more here and if you can add more please let me know

© Anthony Jones, 2014

The interview with Jim Edgar that appeared in the 2nd newsletter was part of some research I did for a never completed article on Frank Bellamy. At the same time John Allard was good enough to allow me to spend a day in the Mirror offices, and this article is a result of that interview. A few days after our meeting I had the idea of publishing a complete Frank Bellamy story, and wrote to John asking if it was possible. When I phoned him shortly afterwards he said that the art proofs were waiting there on his desk.
Getting involved in publishing meant that I had little time for anything else so the article/ interview was put to one side, but before it gets lost completely I've decided it's about time I set out the information John gave me. As mentioned before, at the time I was only interested in Garth for Frank Bellamy's artwork so the questions I asked had a bias in that direction.
In 1943 Steve Dowling devised a mysterious strongman and took the strips he'd drawn into the editor, who being a lover of fast moving action, immediately tore up half of them. The strip was then accepted and Garth made his debut in the Mirror on Saturday July 24th 1943 • At that time the paper was only 3 pages and cost one penny. At first Dowling both wrote and drew the strip, but later staff writer Don Freeman (who was also writing "Jane") took over the scripting. Right from the beginning of the strip John Allard was taken on as assistant artist. He was then 15 and as an apprentice he drew the backgrounds.
Each day Steve Dowling would commute from the West Country. He lived so far away from the Daily Mirror offices that he was only able to stay for around two hours before travelling home again, He would draw on [the] train and also at home while watching TV,  and in fact his dexterity became something of [a] standing joke with friends in the office: it is said that he would draw three of four strips while taking is coat off in the morning.
John Allard by no means takes Garth deadly seriously. He will chuckle over the way Garth seems to have no attachments or visible means of support, he sees humour in the relationship with Lumiere and the way in which his eternal lover Astra always forgives him after he's been to bed with yet another female.
When Peter O'Donnell followed Don Freeman in writing the strip he immediately wrote the blonde Dawn and the dark haired Karen out of the story line. They were replaced by the fair haired Goddess Astra.
When Steve Dowling retired in 1953 (his last story being "The Glendig Miracle") John Allard was promoted to artist and the strip continued in the long established Dowling style. John's first story as artist was "The Time Lock", and the stories were now being written by Jim Edgar who had been recommended by Peter O'Donnell when, he left the strip.
In March 1971 Mirror editor Mike Malloy [sic] introduced the first of two major alterations to the strips page, "Fosdyke Saga" began. Then in July John Allard was told at very short notice that he would revert back to assistant artist on the strip. After just two weeks of illustrating "Sundance", John stepped down and Frank Bellamy began in mid-story.
Under the terms of the agreement John Allard continued to do much of the background artwork and he even drew the occasional complete panel (the last panel of "Sundance" for example). This situation continued up until the end of "Ghost Town". Beginning with his eighth story Frank Bellamy drew the strip,entirely on his own. The title strip of "Mask of Atacama" is the first Garth strip to bear the famous Bellamy signature.
With sex and violence becoming commonplace in the media, to coincide with the change in artists it was decided at editorial level to make several changes. Now Garth would kill, sometimes quite viciously, and although there had always been a certain amount of nudity in the strip, it would now become more sensual by the inclusion of bedroom scenes. As John Allard recalls with amusement the sexual element was included partly to dispel some of the unsavoury rumours,that had been circulating around the newspaper offices, about Garth's relationship with Professor Lumiere.
As well as these changes there was also the more realistic Bellamy style to turn the strip into something very different. Garth himself looked broader in the shoulder with slimmer hips and a more contemporary hairstyle; and his features were more strongly defined. All this led to a completely unexpected occurrence, the Daily Mirror offices were flooded with letters complaining about Garth's changed appearance. Charles Roger, the then head of the Mirror's strip department asked Frank Bellamy to adapt his pencils to the old style in which Garth had been drawn. Understandably Bellamy angrily refused, and there the matter was left, never being taken as far as editorial level. John says it was the only time that he ever saw Frank Bellamy lose his temper. John had had lunch with Frank a few times and found him to be nervous, quietly spoken, courteous and proud of the recognition that his work received.
After completion of 17 Garth stories Frank Bellamy died suddenly on the 5th July 1976 of a heart attack.
Fantasy Advertiser International Vol3 No50 (Nov. 1973) included a long and highly illustrated interview with Frank Bellamy. The interview concerned his pre-Garth work, and a planned sequel covering Garth unfortunately never took place.

I'd like to thank John Allard for the help he has given me over the past two years.
Since typing out the last page I've found out that Harry North who is drawing "James Bond" has since
1976 actually been an artist on MAD. The writer is again Jim Lawrence who I mentioned earlier.
Fantasy Empire a magazine devoted to all aspects of British fantasy is due out in February.

Newspaper Strip Society Newsletter #4 (Feb 1981)

John Allard passed away in November 2018

So no photo of Jim Edgar! The paucity of information on him particularly reflects the British lack of interest in its own newspaper strip creators. If anyone can add anything I, for one, would be really grateful


Wednesday 1 July 2020

ORIGINAL ART: Garth on ebay - The Beautiful People (K6)

Garth: The Beautiful People (K6)

This strip has appeared for auction or Buy It Now on eBay. It's a nice example of Frank Bellamy's work on Garth, presented by robinb.76  The seller states:
Frank Bellamy Genuine Garth strip from the Spanish Lady [sic] series, 18cm x 54cm approx, genuine one off artwork and much sought after, being sold by a family member (so can confirm genuine. Will deliver very well packaged by recorded delivery.
It actually appears in "The Beautiful People" the story about Garth's 'cool' friend Marc Serrano who needs Garth's protection on the island of Ikonos in the Aegean.  here are other images the seller has uploaded.

Here's the other strips that appear before and after this one for your delight!

Garth: The Beautiful people (K5-K9)


WHERE?: eBay
Buy It Now: £375
ENDING PRICE: [Sold to a private buyer for £350]
END DATE: Monday 6 July 2020