Monday 17 June 2024

Frank Bellamy and David the Shepherd King

Let's look at one of his many strips that has not been reprinted (yet): "The Shepherd King: The Story of David" to give it its full title
Eagle 14 March 1959 (Vol.10:11)

Eagle 21 March 1959 (Vol.10:12) Original Art

First image of David
EAGLE (Volume 9:37 - 9:52 and 10:1 - 10:15, (13 September 1958 - 27 December 1958 and 3 January 1959 - 11 April 1959) saw a beautiful interpretation in 32 episodes of the biography of "David the Shepherd King" on the back page in full colour. The comic, begun by the Reverend Marcus Morris (and Frank Hampson, "Dan Dare" creator) to combat the growing tide of horror and crime comics being introduced from the United States had a weekly strip on the back cover covering such saints and biblical characters as St. Paul, St. Patrick, "Mark, The Youngest Disciple", but also historical characters such as Alfred the Great, Baden-Powell, Walter Raleigh and Nelson.

Eagle 13 September 1958 (Vol.09:37)
Frank Bellamy had just come from his first colour assignment on that very back page, telling the story of "The Happy Warrior" (Winston Churchill) which was also written (as was "King Arthur" and "Robin Hood" in Swift), by Clifford Makins. After the 6 September 1958 issue ends the series with a full page portrait of Churchill, Bellamy began "The Shepherd King" written by Makins.Interestingly Bellamy changed the opening panel  - showing David's portrait - as he grew older in the strip. 

Second image of David

It's well known now that Bellamy always presented his editor with drawings showing how he perceived the characters in his strips before he started. "David" is no exception. Below we can see Bellamy shows the sheepskin coat, girdle, staff and inner garment David will be dressed in.  Notice in the bottom right we also see a "script" by which I think Bellamy means a "scrip" or "shepherd's bag" in which shepherd's would carry food, or small tools, or a flute-type instrument. Then we also see a gourd for water, and a short sword to defend himself against wild animals. Bellamy also shows how David's sandals would be tied as well as various half-length portraits and a rear view too. It's interesting to wonder why this is not in full colour, but only has some shading in blue on one side of David's face.


Character design sheet

In Volume 7 Number 3 (Autumn 1994) of the Eagle Society's  Eagle Times (pp.49-53) Terry Doyle featured "Frank Bellamy: Illustrated guide - The Shepherd King - character studies" which was Part 6 of his series on Bellamy. The designs below were borrowed from Alan Whitehead by Terry, as was the sheet above. I wonder whether these were inserted into a folder for the editor, knowing how Bellamy knew all about presenting briefs to clients.

Another thing we now know is that Bellamy also took photographs of his artwork before handing them over to his editor. Thanks to Alan Davis we still have some of these to compare to the published artwork. 

Eagle 1 November 1958 (Vol.09:44)

Polaroid of the artwork

Third image of David

The colours are so vibrant in the photogravure comic and Bellamy used props he owned - such as the cheetah skin in the above panel. Of course the earliest most famous incident is when David confronts Goliath and beats him using not only his confidence in God but also his shepherd skills. Both the last panels showing David stooping for a stone and challenging Goliath are drawn next to Goliath looking bigger and 'pointing' down to David. In the episode where David triumphs, we feel the impact of the stone on Goliath's forehead as Bellamy both draws a highlight of the stone's path and because the artist makes the giant wince so much. But the ultimate panel shows the power of the stone's impact as Goliath flies backwards!

Eagle 22 November 1958 (Vol.09:47)

Eagle 29 November 1958 (Vol.09:48)

Fourth image of David

We follow David's adventures of calming King Saul's moods and his meeting Jonathan, the King's son. David's followers support him loyally and after many battle scenes, Bellamy changes the introductory panel to showing the crowned King David. 

But before this I want to highlight one other piece of trivia brought to me by David Slinn. Looking at the episode below from Eagle Volume 10 Number 9, we see a lovely portrait of David saying "The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places! How are the mighty fallen!" (which comes from 2 Samuel 1:19) and is his lament on hearing Saul and Jonathan have been killed.

Eagle 28 February 1959 (Vol.10:9)
A forgotten comic in the UK was called Zip. It was a weekly comic published by Odhams Press, launched on 4 January 1958, as a venue for the original strips from Mickey Mouse Weekly after Odhams lost the rights to Disney characters. It ran for 85 issues before it was merged into Swift on 10 October 1959. Several strips carried over but one that did not was "Captain Morgan" drawn by Colin Andrew
"Captain Morgan" Zip 16 May 1959
It looks to me that Colin Andrew was closely watching Bellamy's work - especially in that last panel! David wrote:

Around two years previously, in the confines of Hulton House, there had been “management murmurings” regarding perceived similarities between Colin Andrew’s, ‘Captain Morgan – Buccaneer of the Spanish Maine’, appearing in Odhams’ Zip, and ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’ currently on Eagle’s back-page. While preliminary advice was sought from company lawyers; as I recollect, Frank simply viewed the fellow illustrator as someone destined for a successful future… as, would later be proved, in the pages of Boys’ World, Eagle, TV Century 21, Lady Penelope, Solo and Countdown/TV Action.  [...] On 14 March 1959, Odhams Press bid for and acquired all the major shareholdings in the Hulton Press.  Auguring, the more momentous 1961 Mirror Group take-over of Odhams – including the Longacre Press – that, to all intents and purposes, nullified any awkward repercussions from “swipes”, purloined plots or blatant breach of copyright.

For anyone who wants the listing of Andrews' stories, the first story in the series:

“The Prison Ship”, appeared in Zip, issue dated 15 November 1958; followed by “The Treasure of Porto Bello”, 7 February 1959; with “Tortugas Trap!”, beginning on 9 May 1959 - with the one above being the second episode of that story. Zip returned to newsagents after the summer printing strikes, week-ending 22 August 1959, the delayed episode was the conclusion of the ‘Captain Morgan’ stories.

An interesting footnote in the story of how Bellamy inspired fellow artists. 

Eagle Times Spring 2017

Meanwhile back to Makins and Bellamy's "The Shepherd King". In Spring 2017 Eagle Times published the first of three parts of "Steve Winders examines Clifford Makins and Frank Bellamy's strip about King David and compares it to the biblical accounts of his life". Steve has certainly covered the comparison between biblical sources and the necessarily abbreviated and censored life story very well. The three articles appeared in Eagle Times Vol. 30: 1 (Spring 2017) plus Vol. 30: 2 (Summer 2017) and finally Vol. 30: 3 (Autumn 2017). An excellent article.

Lastly before I leave the subject, did you know that Swift (the younger people's comic from Hulton) also ran a strip on David. Here's an example of the half page strip from the first issue of Swift from 1954.

Swift 20 March 1954 (Vol1.No1), p14 

The strip ran until 11 September 1954 (Vol 1: 26) after which its title changed to "David and Jonathan". This strip ran until 19 March 1955. The following week "Picture Stories from the Bible" began - which were illustrations with text boxes, or libretto, rather than comic strip.


No comments: