Battleaxe Headmistress, Hooligan Girls: Ronald Searle’s St. Trinian

« Quite suddenly I began to draw. No one paid much attention to this, nor to the fact that the drawings were immediately grotesque. This was assumed to be one of the penalties for being ‘cackhanded’, local dialect for mocking a left-hander, which is what I am. In addition, nobody suggested that there was anything ludicrous in the fact that, for the first time since the Searles had plodded their way through the bogs to escape the Vikings, a left-handed Searle was proclaiming that the had to be An Artist, instead of a gravedigger, or whatever. »  from Ronald Searle in Perspective (1984, Atlantic Monthly Press)

Who’s Out There? is a peaceful little family – we don’t often have disagreements about cartoonists or their art, and if occasionally one of us loves something while the other one is neutral about it, it doesn’t often happen that we are in total dissent. However, exceptions proving the rule, British illustrator Ronald William Fordham Searle (1920-2011) is one such point of contention: I like his style, co-admin RG doesn’t much care for it.  

I was a little late to the party, and came to Searle’s in a rather circuitous fashion. In a used bookstore (isn’t how these things always start?), I noticed a book called The Grapes of Ralph: Wine According to Ralph Steadman (1996, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and was intrigued enough to purchase it. Steadman’s splotchy, wild style was perfect for a book about fermented grape juice – he frequently coloured his art in a manner reminiscent of wine stains, and the unhinged art hinted at the artist being more than slightly soused. Well… where, you may ask, does Searle come in? Steadman was heavily influenced by his style, so much so that for a while I embarrassingly thought that Grapes of Ralph was actually illustrated by the former.

One of the more focused splashes (haha, wine splashes, right) in The Grapes of Ralph.

However, Searle has proven to be a lot more appealing to me from an aesthetic viewpoint – I have kept The Grapes of Ralph, but I don’t glance in its direction often. As for co-admin RG, he explains that he mainly dislikes Searle for being responsible for bad copy-cats like Steadman.

There are plenty of articles written about Searle – his extensive body of work has gained its share of acclaim and awards, and many appear illustrators appear to have been heavily influenced by his style. For example, The War Drawings of Ronald Searle from Illustration Chronicles tells the story of how Searle survived, and chronicled with daily sketches, the experience of being a Japanese prisoner of war. There is no need for me to go over that chunk of history. That being said, a lot of his books are quite out of print, and those are generally the ones I find most interesting. Before Searle’s art went progressively more speckled and unfocused (which is what Steadman, with whom this post started, is mostly channelling), his drawings had a crispness of exaggeration I find really appealing, a certain floweriness under the cover of which very acerbic (and very British) observations are delivered to the delighted viewer.

An example of looser lines of later years (this is from 1980); still enjoyable because the palette is restrained.

My favourite is his St. Trinian series (from 1941 and onwards), chronicling shenanigans at a boarding school for girls. What started as a series of doodles to amuse a friend’s schoolgirl daughters became an institution of its own – this topic was so popular that Searle’s cartoons were even adapted (awkwardly, in my opinion) into seven (!) movies. I recommend this helpful article from Tweedland The Gentlemen’s Club for historical details. For all the popularity of these schoolgirls from hell (in any obituary, you’ll find some sentence to the effect of ‘for many people, the St Trinian’s cartoons define Ronald Searle’s career‘), St. Trinian collections have been long out of print, for the most part, and one has to make do with mostly inferior, dubiously printed paperbacks claiming to be Best Ofs.

Knell Knudel from Lambiek Encyclopedia explains: « The topic [of boarding schools] had inspired many British novels before. But ‘St. Trinian’s’ was far less realistic and darkly disturbing, motivated by Searle’s war-time traumas. The little girls torture each other on a rack, collect mushrooms to poison people, drown each other at the beach or study books on how to shrink human heads. Amazingly enough, ‘St. Trinian’s’ became massively popular, despite the fact that the world was still recovering from a world war. In 1948 the first book compilation was published. Many more would follow. Gags appeared in countless magazines all over the world. Yet Searle quickly grew tired of his hit series. He felt its formulaic comedy severely limited him. In 1952 he brutally discontinued his hit feature by dropping an atomic bomb on the dreaded school! While it presumably killed its characters, it didn’t terminate its popularity. » 

The first St. Trinian cartoon ever published in print appeared in Lilliput (a monthly British magazine which deserves a post of its own) in 1941. This is Lilliput no. 25, December 1949.

Though quite a few collections of cartoons were published at the time, the following three are of main interest: Hurrah For St Trinian’s (1948), The Female Approach (1950), and Back to The Slaughterhouse (1952). Thanks to my bookseller friend Barney (visit his store!), I am the proud possessor of The Curse of St. Trinian’s: The Best of the Drawings (1993, Pavilion Books), a hardcover edition, which scratched the itch but did not quench my desire to own the original editions, with their gloriously yellowed paper and characteristic fragrance.

For example, admire the characterization of Angela Menace, as depicted in these three glorious cartoons (one could make a triptych):

«  Searle was born, in 1920, in Cambridge, into a socially anonymous background, where male children were expected to be clerks or minor civil servants. Placed almost squarely in the middle of society, he had the ideal vantage point from which to observe his country, without having to suffer the distortion of an undue affection for his origins. It is an easy background to shrug off if you know what you want to do with yourself, and Searle did know, from an early age. We felt obscurely that Searle’s drawings begged authoritarian disapproval simply by existing in such profusion. That they also flayed their subjects with a merciless and unforgiving line – both grotesque and precise – made it all the better. That it was done with such sympathetic relish made it even better than that. Parents were embarrassing, hypocritical cretins, either callous in the victory of worldly success, or living pitiable lives of continual defeat; schoolmasters incompetent frauds, either grasping, sottish, brutal, ignorant or half-dead. Searle got them just right. » — Nicholas Lezard, in an introduction to The Terror of St Trinian’s and Other Drawings (another best-of collection issued in 2006).

I love the new science teacher being so warmly welcomed by both headmistress and schoolgirls – they all seem genuinely delighted.

Seeing the wonderfully blasé headmistresses gingerly stepping over corpses, one can’t help but reminisce about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or Miss Pym Disposes.

The Female Approach, interestingly enough, featured plenty of men, too…

… alongside the usual ingénues (who have no idea what they’re doing, but they do it anyway) and temptresses (who know exactly what they’re doing).

“Do you want the time?”

Searle died in 2011 in his beloved France, where he had been living since 1975. He was 91 years old, and spent his last years as a bit of a recluse (though still drawing), far away from the public’s eye – when he passed away, one got the impression that some thought he had done it already years ago. As for St Trinian’s, its popularity seems to sort-of, kind-of linger on: there was yet another movie in 2007, though I would posit that we need fewer movies, and more proper, hardcover reprints of the material that left an enduring trace in people’s memories.

Have a gander at Perpetua, a wonderful website dedicated to everything Searle.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Tentacles Aren’t So Bad, My Old Fruit*

« The land of embarrassment and breakfast. » Julian Barnes

Ah, yes, it’s time to paddle once again to British shores, after fortifying myself with a few dainty tea sandwiches. In rough chronological order…

Here is a Dr What and His Time Clock strip I found on the excellent Blimey! The Blog of British Comics. I’ll quote Lew Stringer, its author, who is a lot more knowledgeable about British comics than I’ll ever be: «... a weekly humour-adventure serial that ran in Boys’ World in 1964, published by Odhams. The hairstyle and clothing of the character is obviously based on that of the first Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell. Here’s the episode from Boys’ World Vol. 2 No. 33, dated 15th August 1964. The art is by Artie Jackson, who later drew Danger Mouse (preceding the TV cartoon of the same name/concept) for Smash! in 1966. Jackson also drew many of the Danny Dare strips for Wham! »

Dr What and His Time Clock strip from August 1964, drawn by Artie Jackson.

In case you didn’t know, a beano is British slang for a noisy festive celebration, or, in other words, some sort of a party. Biffo the Bear is not my favourite character from this very long-running publication (started in 1938, still ongoing), but I really like the way this octopus is drawn.

Beano no. 1435 (January 17th, 1970, D.C. Thomson). Cover by David Sutherland.
Chips from March 10th, 1973. The cover is drawn by Mike Lacey, son of adventure strip artist Bill Lacey.

Scream Inn, written and illustrated by Brian Walker, was a beautifully-drawn strip published in Shiver and Shake (and, later, Whoopee!). The location: a hotel run by ghosts. The premise: these ghosts delighted in playing pranks on humans, and offered a million pounds to anybody who would manage to stay at their hotel for an entire night. Readers were invited to suggest what type of person could make it through the night (and were granted a one quid reward if their suggestion made it into a story).

In this one, a friendly octopus is borrowed to terrify a clown:

Scream Inn page published in Whoopee! from June 4th, 1977.

Cookie’s many-tentacled friend Olly makes another appearance a month later, this time used to spook “Jake the Peg with an extra leg”.

Scream Inn detail published in Whoopee! from July 16th, 1977.

Incidentally, isn’t this a nice header?

Elephant on the Run ran in Cheekly Weekly and was drawn mostly by Robert Nixon, with some other artists occasionally filling in. This strip boasted a pleasantly surreal premise: the elephant, Walter, is being relentlessly pursued by a mysterious man in a plastic mac… and suffering from a bad case of amnesia after an unfortunate circus act mishap, he has no idea why he’s being hunted, or what the man wants from him. Still, he runs! Both of them donning a range of improbable costumes to fake each other out – as in the following strip, in which Walter dresses, among other things, as a one legged pirate to elude detection. This sort of wackiness is why I love British comics.

This instalment of Elephant on the Run was published in Cheeky Weekly of November 25th, 1978 and is drawn by Robert Nixon. Look inside this issue here.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into British tentacles! There are plenty more of that stuff in our archives – or go rummaging through the whole British category in THE SUN NEVER SETS ON THE BRITISH EMPIRE!

~ ds

*paraphrasing from ‘Pimlico’ by David Devant & His Spirit Wife. Here are these joyous goofballs:

Off to the Isle of Cats — and Back by Teatime!

« It’s no good trying to teach people who need to be taught. » — Aleister Crowley

You may have happened across our earlier post on that astounding but tragically short-lived touche-à-tout, Gerard Hoffnung (1925-59). Well, here’s a look at another facet of the man’s work, crafted this time in tandem with, of all people, the definitive-but ambivalent biographer of opprobrious occultist and Ozzy song subject Aleister Crowley, namely the intriguing John Symonds (1914-2006). Come to think of it, the affiliation makes impeccable sense, and it proceeds swimmingly.

In an era where it often seems that those rare adults who yet read do so at toddler-ish levels, it’s easy to forget how many so-called children’s books of yore had plenty to offer the refined adult mind. Here, then, are some highlights from Messrs. Hoffnung and Symonds’ 1955 opus, The Isle of Cats.

« He closed his eyes, yawned, arched his back and began to dig his claws in and out of the sofa. Uncle Tom was no ordinary cat, for he could tell the time, look through a telescope (keeping one paw over the other eye, of course), beat up an egg, steer a raft, smoke a pipe and do many other things. »
« He’s the Mayor, » whispered Uncle Tom to Gabby, « so be nice to him. »
« He was still saying thank you as he and Uncle Tom were being driven away in the Mayor’s car, followed by various cats on bicycles, tricycles and penny-farthings. »
The wrestling bout pitting Tim the Terror (left) against The Furry Fury (right). Things end with a crash when Tim lets go.
« The Hall of Fame contained the portraits of the island’s most celebrated cats. »
« There were portraits of lots of other famous cats, including Martha who had seven hundred and forty nine children, six hundred and eighty three of whom survived, and were now working hard as tram-drivers, crossing-sweepers, lamp-lighters, pastry-cooks and so forth, with the exception of three who simply won’t work at all. »
« At the Orphanage, all the kittens were lined up on either side of the Great Hall, looking as good as gold, their hankerchiefs sewn to their shirts, close enough to their noses to blow into them. »
« Just then they sailed over the madhouse and saw some cats standing on their heads, waving their legs in the air. »
The book’s endpapers illustration, granting the reader a lofty view from the Mayor’s hot air (of course) balloon.

As a bonus, for the finale, here’s the poster Hoffnung was commissioned to illustrate for the classic, Brexit-anticipating 1949 Ealing Studios comedy Passport to Pimlico. [ watch the trailer! ]

Hoffnung’s loving widow, Annetta, wrote, in her 1988 biography of Gerard: « As he sat at his drawing board, increasingly involved and complicated fantasies tumbled from Gerard’s pen onto the paper. In 1949 came perhaps the most intricate of all, a drawing for the poster advertising a popular film of the day, Passport to Pimlico. I do not have the original design but it is unlikely to have been larger than 12″ x 15″, and to squeeze so much into so little space is no mean achievement. » I couldn’t find a trace of this image online, so I’m providing a nice ‘n’ large scan for you. Eat your heart out, Will Elder!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Kellie Strøm

One might call the illustrator and comics artist Kellie Strøm a bit of a cosmopolitan –  born in Denmark, he grew up in Ireland and, in adulthood, made London his place of residence. He has accomplished much, but seemingly obtained little recognition for it – his graphic novel (The Acid Bath Case, 1992, published by Kitchen Sink), a collaboration with Stephen Walsh, seems to have been lost in the rivers of time, despite being a striking showcase of Strøm’s black-and-white, precise-yet-graceful style. He also has a great eye for colour, as becomes evident from a quick glance at Star Wars comics he’s illustrated (but does anybody read Star Wars comics?), or, in a much more pleasant and hopefully longer-lasting and farther-reaching vein, his paintings for children’s books. 

A panel from The Acid Bath Case (1992, Kitchen Sink). These may not be tentacles per se, but as far as I’m concerned, they qualify!

Personally, I have a soft spot for his illustrations in glorious full colour – I believe that it’s a rare skill to be able to use a full rainbow palette and not end up with gaudy or downright ugly results. Let’s have a look!

That thing is soon growing up to be a tentacled monstrosity, but right now it’s all pretty colours!

The following are pages from Fortune, Fate, and the Natural History of the Sarlacc, written by Mark Schultz and published in Star Wars Tales no. 6 (2000, Dark Horse). Watch an unfortunate victim plunge into the gullet of a merciless tentacled beast!

For comparison purposes: this is the original art…

And the following are pages from the printed comic:

I also mentioned Strøm’s career as an illustrator in children books. The results are beautiful, and, I sincerely hope, well-remunerated.

Panels from Het Zeemans – ABC (2008, Rubinstein Publishing) – or, in other words, Sailors’ ABC:

I didn’t have the heart to remove the copyright from this image! Visit Strøm’s website here. Look how many delightful tentacles one can squish into one panel!

2014 saw the release of the tentacle-wealthy Worse Things Happen at Sea (Nobrow Press), in which « historical ships are attacked, enveloped and engorged by monstrous sea creatures surfacing from the deepest depths of the darkest oceans. » Must be Strøm’s Nordic roots re-surfacing, though apparently he cannot swim!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 31

« I grew up in a farm town in the Midwest, where not much exciting happened. I liked the idea of lives lived at night and the shadowy characters who lived in that demi-monde.Michael Emerson

And our final slot goes to… the eminent Mr. Roger Langridge!

An average, ‘nuclear’ family moves to a small town in the Midwest, which turns out to be mind-numbingly strange… a fact entirely lost on the clueless parental units. Sound familiar?

It’s obvious, given the time frame (five years late), that Gross Point was, to be charitable, keenly influenced by the television show Eerie, Indiana (1991-92)… whose short run (just one season and a mere nineteen episodes… plus fifteen novels!) belies its lasting appeal and influence.

But, and there’s a sizeable ‘but’… both series provide considerable, often subversive entertainment, and come from a long line of high-concept, cœlacanth-out-of-aqua sagas. You might say that Gross Point stands as a darker, yet goofier Eerie, Indiana. Incredibly, it was still approved by the clearly-agonizing, utterly irrelevant Comics Code Authority!

This is Gross Point no. 5 (Dec. 1997, DC), the Halloween special… but then again, as they say, “Every day is Halloween in Gross Point“. Cover by Sean Taggart.

The facetious small print:

Gross Point is a fictitious town, not to be confused with that differently-spelled one in Michigan. The magazine Gross Point is a work of satire. The stories, characters and incidents mentioned in this magazine are entirely fictional. No resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or comatose, deformed, deranged, disfigured, dismembered, disembodied, discarnate, decaying, reincarnated, undead, immortal, reanimated, telepathic, pyritic, telekinetic, magical, transformed, trans-channelled, enchanted, cursed, possessed, monstrous, cannibalistic, demonic, vampiric, reptilian, lycanthropic, subterranean, mummified, extra-terrestrial, or interdimensionally-stranded, is intended or implied, or should be inferred. Any similarity to same without satiric purpose is coincidental.

The Pickett family’s colourful neighbourhood in Gross Point. Sublime pencils and inks by Roger Langridge. He truly brought a sense of place to his work on GP.
Tight as a duck’s arse!” This is the issue when we find out — at last! — the answer to the mystery of the duck-shaped house next door.
Groucho, who else? DC clearly panders to the late 90s teen set with a hybrid parody of its own late 60s mystery anthology title and a legendary Depression-era comic. Well, it works for me, but what do *I* know?
A sizeable part of why this is Gross Point’s finest hour: Langridge gets to trot out his rather credible EC-vintage Wally Wood/Will Elder ersatz.
… and then goes full-on Mad-style Will Elder! This bourgeois chiller scared the Dickens out of the local youths.

In Issue two, we are told that:

Gross Point differs from most new DC titles in recent memory in that it was internally created. The concept from the series was the brainchild of the internal development program of the Special Projects Group, headed by Group Editor Martin Pasko [ né Jean-Claude Rochefort, in Montréal, QC ], who is also this title’s editorial overseer.

In other words, Created by committee, which accounts for the utter lack of originality… which is yet no impediment to its ultimate worth.

However, and a big However it is, some savvy, enlightened creative moves were made, most of all by recruiting stupendous penciller/inker Langridge, as well as Sean ‘S.M’ Taggart (perhaps a bit of nepotism, what with him married to a DC editor, but never mind, he’s good) and writers Dan Slott and Matt Wayne, among others.

The series lasted a not-too-shabby fourteen issues, which you can still get your calloused mitts on dirt cheap online and in the quarter bins, as it’s never been collected. I daresay it might have been a smash hit… if, say, Scholastic had published it.

Well, that wraps up another year’s selection! If you’re craving more, then the 93 entries of the previous trio of Hallowe’en Countdowns are (un)naturally at your disposal.

First there was… Hallowe’en Countdown I

And it was followed by… Hallowe’en Countdown II!

then came… Hallowe’en Countdown III!

Have a good one, warts and all — just be cautious out there!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Get Yer Wellies On!

British comic weeklies are a world unto themselves, with their own styles and jargon. A few books have been written on the subject, and a handful of dedicated bloggers have endeavoured to provide interested readers with cover and story scans, as well as historical information, but overall this is largely an unmined field. I don’t know if this situation is caused by a relative lack of interest, or simply because there is just so much material to cover (the most popular of weeklies have thousands of issues). The other problem is that for reasons of mercantile interests (i.e. sales), a lot of these weeklies would be merged with other weeklies, sometimes keeping a double name and occasionally getting renamed altogether, every so often de-merging to continue under the original name to be cancelled altogether or perhaps merge again. Short of being a scholar specialising in this field, keeping track of all this is about as daunting as attempting to interpret this extremely confusing roadway sign.

I’m just a dabbler, tentatively poking a toe into these somewhat intimidating waters once in a while. So far, tentacle-wise, we’ve talked about Eagle’s Dan Dare, the forgotten British master Roy Wilson, and 2000 A.D., among other things… you can see all our British posts here.

The two most popular British comics are deemed to be The Beano and The Dandy, both weeklies for children published by D.C. Thomson (I really have to force myself to not add a p to that) starting in the 1930s. The former reached its four thousandth (!) issue in August 2019, and the latter counts as the world’s third-longest running comic (spot number on is taken by Italian Il Giornalino, and spot number two belongs to Detective Comics).

It’s pretty difficult to find high-res scans of most issues of any of the weeklies discussed in this post, so I was definitely limited by that. However, I believe I still managed to cobble together a fairly representative selection, with the help of co-admin RG who had to unwarp, re-colour and trim the heck out of some of these covers. Thanks, partner!

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The weekly The Hotspur was published by D.C. Thomson. From its inception in 1933 up until 1959, it was a boys’ story paper, containing text stories and illustrations but no comic strips. It became a comic magazine in October 1959, with the last issue published in January 1981. This is The Hotspur no. 751 (March 9th, 1974).

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Hotspur no. 778 (September 14th, 1974).

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The Hotspur no. 826 (16th August, 1975).

Lion, published by IPC, was brought to life to compete with the Eagle periodical, which was the home of ever-popular Dan Dare. For proper competition, this new weekly publication needed a science-fiction romp, too, and that’s how Captain Condor – Space Ship Pilot got started.  In 1969, the Lion gobbled up its rival Eagle (yum) and they merged into Lion & Eagle (sounds like a pub, not a publication! – RG). As for Lion and Thunder, that was the result of the periodical Thunder (also published by IPC) getting incorporated into Lion in 1972, after only 22 issues. I guess “Thunder Lion” would have put the cart before the horse, or the minor, unsuccessful periodical ahead of the major one.

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Lion and Thunder no. 4 (4th May 1974). Take a look inside this issue at the Great News for All Readers! blog.

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Lion and Thunder ( 27th November 1971).

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Lion and Thunder no. 23rd September 1972.

The Wizard was a weekly “story paper” launched in September 1922, published by D.C. Thomson. It got as far as issue no. 1970, merging with The Rover in 1963 and continuing under Rover and Wizard for a while. The Wizard was relaunched in 1970, and endured until 1978.a while. The Wizard was relaunched in 1970, and.

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 The Wizard no. 88 (16th October 1971), The Wizard no. 90 (30th October 1971) and The Wizard no. 233 (27th July 1974). I was only able to find these covers in low resolution, sorry!

Last (but not least, as they say), no post of this type would be complete without a couple of issues of the aforementioned Dandy!

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The Dandy no. 2109 and The Dandy no. 2138.

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Good old Korky!

Should your organism require more British weeklies, give Great News for All Readers a shot, or a-fix your peepers on Blimey! The Blog of British Comics, both excellent sources of the stuff.

∼ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Roy Wilson

«... it was invariably his work that was given pride of place. His was emulated and imitated. By the end of the 1930s, he was the most respected and sought-after artist working for comics…»

And now guess who these lines were written about. My title was a dead giveaway, I admit! But if you’ve heard of Roy Wilson, you are, as it turns out, distinctly in the minority. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (surely that is a sign of success and fame in the modern world) in English, and a quick search for his name yields a lot of unrelated nonsense. But just add the word “comics” to your Google quest, and we’re in business! 

Royston Warner Wilson was born in Northamptonshire, England just at the turn of the century, in 1900. He died young, at 65, but those years were enough for him to leave more than a lifetime’s worth of cartoons, humorous drawings and comic strips. For someone who has been widely credited as the most influential artist of British humour comics in what roughly corresponds to the Golden Age, which is to say the 1930s to the 1950s, his relative obscurity is downright criminal. While not particularly well-remembered by the world at large (even by the British public, it seems), at least he is beloved by legions of fans who were children during these decades and were irrevocably, and delightfully, marked by the antics of his characters.

In the 1930s, he was the leading artist for Amalgamated Press, which unleashed a variety of humour/comic titles, mostly weeklies, upon a delighted audience of pre- and post- pubescent children. Oh, a lot of these publications were around before he stepped in – but he revitalized them. As for the publisher, it had a long history with comics: as a matter of fact, it entered that particular market in 1890 with something called Illustrated Chips.

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Funny Wonder Annual, 1939.
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Funny Wonder Annual, 1941.

Because Roy Wilson was so talented and prolific and his artwork so lively, his style quickly became the house style and remained so for decades, which is why Wilson can be easily credited with having created what we can roughly call the “British humour style”, easily recognizable to this day.

He not only created and drew (and, often, redrew: like some super prolific artists who seem to have too many ideas to put down on paper, he was a perfectionist) the stories, he also lettered them himself. He had a great eye for colour, too! Which leads me to my next point – I’ve often seen him referred to as the « British Walt Kelly », but I’m not entirely on board with that comparison. Oh, there’s similarities – for instance, their common love of playful language and the ease with which both depict frisky, charismatic animals – but I think this monicker does both of them a grave disservice. Let’s appreciate artists on their own merit, shall we?

Only one Wilson monograph appears to have seen print: The Comic Art of Roy Wilson (1983), and it’s quite scarce nowadays. I recently purchased a copy. All images in this post have been scanned from it, courtesy of co-admin RG.

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Roy Wilson was actually allowed to sign his paintings – I don’t know if that was a first, but it was certainly highly unusual in British comics. He was paid about eight guineas per painting.

The reason for the re-occurring octopus, as you may be wondering – other than it being clearly fun to draw – is that he was a character in the stories of Pitch and Toss, published in Funny Wonder. To wit, Pitch and Toss Put On a Good Show and Show How to Make Good Money!:

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Published in Funny Wonder, August 21st, 1937.

The above was the first appearance of Occy the Octopussie, who became a mainstay of the strip. Here are two (rejected) panels from another chapter in the saga of Pitch and Toss, this time for Pitch and Toss and Their Pets Get a Sub and Spend a Happy Whitsun, from March 30th, 1942.

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For a full list of titles his work appeared in, head over to the Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future blog. Also visit Blimey! The Blog of British Comics to see some gorgeously-pencilled original art. 

« Roy Wilson’s art is still very much alive and, even in the comics of today, his influence can be seen. Britain’s foremost comic artist created a host of cheery and boundlessly zestful characters who still exist in the minds of the millions they entertained His art will not be forgotten. » (quote by Alan Clark and David Ashford from The Comic Art of Roy Wilson)

∼ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Sailing Through Space on a Synthi-Biscuit*

« Take ’em from behind — best way to kill those slimy aliens! »

This Tentacle Tuesday takes us on a little trip to beautiful ol’ Albion, the land of Tharg the Mighty and « Harlem Heroes, an all-black sports team who played a futuristic airborne blend of basketball and football, obviously inspired by the movie Rollerball; Mach-1, a Six Million Dollar Man-style bionic hero; a revamped version of classic British stiff-upper-lip space hero Dan Dare; Flesh, in which time-travelling cowboys hunted dinosaurs to feed an overpopulated future society; and Invasion!, about the occupation of Britain by warlike Volgans from somewhere to the east, which played nicely into the growing fears of conflict with the Soviet Union. » (source: 40 years of 2000AD: looking back on the future of comic books) This may not sound like the Britain we know and love, but frankly it might be an improvement on today’s version of it.

The aforementioned Dan Dare got a Tentacle Tuesday all to himself, and I’ve used a couple of 2000 AD covers before, but these five are new to Who’s Out There (I don’t recycle material, other than in cases of dire emergency) – and watch out for the bonus inside story!

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2000 AD prog no. 24 (August 1977), cover by Kevin O’Neill.

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2000 AD programme no. 36 (October 1977), cover by Lopez.

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2000 AD prog no. 255 (March 1982), cover by Ian Gibson.

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Judge Dredd has quite a hard time getting rid of overly clingy admirers…  2000 AD programme no. 310 (April 1983), cover drawn by Mike McMahon.

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2000 AD prog no. 1814 (January 2013), cover by Simon Davis. Retief, is that you? Click here to find more about what this cover is an homage to and what the original art looked like.

The following is from the story Food for Thought, scripted by Steve Moore and illustrated by Horacio Lalia, originally published in 2000 AD prog no. 26 (August 1977).

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£ ds

* « You creeps must think I sailed through space on a synthi-biscuit! » (Judge Dredd in The Judge Child, Part 22 – Blind Hate!, printed in 2000 AD prog no. 177, September 1980.)

Glenn Dakin’s Alter Ego, Abraham Rat

« What’s the point in eternity… if nothing ever changes? » — White Ant gets in the final bon mot (Captain Oblivion no. 1)

In the mid-1980s, the surprise success of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles touched off a veritable avalanche of ever crappier, hastily-assembled and cheaply-produced knockoffs — at least Eastman and Laird initially meant their creation as a joke. Oh, there were some real gems amidst the rubbish, but as Sturgeon’s Law tells us, the bad greatly outweighed the good, let alone the great. This is now known as the Great 1980s Black and White Comics Glut.

Among the good-to-great (well, to my taste) were a score of short-lived onomatopoeic humour anthologies such as !Gag! (Harrier), Honk! (Fantagraphics), Splat! (Mad Dog Graphics), Bop, Buzz, Twist (along with the venerable Snarf, all from Kitchen Sink)… the mutant progeny of Zap Comix, I suppose.

It was within the pages of Honk! that I was greeted by such across-the-pond talent as Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Phil Elliott and Paul Grist. Their work provided a sorely-needed gust of English country air to the superhero-fatigued reader, though one had to keep both eyes open, as alternative comics publishing in the ’80s was a maddening mixture of whack-a-mole and ‘throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks‘.

Now that the stage is set, I’ll share some of my favourite Dakin strips. He’s been a busy chap, creating several solo series: Temptation, Captain Oblivion/Abe Rat, Robot Crusoe; collaborations: Paris: the Man of Plaster (with Steve Way), Mr. Day and Mr. Night, The Man From Cancer and Greenhouse Warriors (all with Phil Elliott), as well as YA novels (the spooky Candle Man) and animation (the astonishing Shaun the Sheep).

Today, I’ll focus of my very favourite Dakin creation (his most understated and personal), the fancifully autobiographical Abe Rat.

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The author introduces his creature, and who better to do it? From the sterling compendium Abe – Wrong for All the Right Reasons (2001, Top Shelf).

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A Song of Spring was originally published in Fast Fiction no. 14 (April 1985, Fast Fiction).

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As this Captain Oblivion one-shot was left out of the Abe collection (the original artwork was lost!), the completist will want this one as well… and will not be disappointed nor go broke in the process. This is Captain Oblivion no. 1 (Aug. 1987, Harrier). Cover colours by Mr. Phil Elliott.

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Dakin’s comrade-in-ink Eddie Campbell (Abe’s his fave Dakin strip too) provides the introduction to the collection, and therein shares these thoughts: « Back when we were doing our little photocopied comics (what I term ‘small press’) in the ’80s, we constantly challenged each other to take the comics form in new directions. Dakin evolved in exciting ways in his Abe stories. The were autobiographical, but more concerned with the inner life than the physical one. He arrived at an approach which I termed ‘discourse’. He would devise characters and symbols, and borrow others, combining them in argumentative juxtapositions. There would be passages where he’d use a character from history or a novel to push his contemplation towards a resolution. Once he even called a halt to proceedings and ran a variant ending. »

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed making Abe’s acquaintance.

-RG

A Sausage or a Can of Beer? The Goodies in Comics

« Slap him up and down upon the floor
Tickle his feet and hear him giggle
Then unzip him down the middle
Give that gibbon what he’s hollerin’ for! » — Stuff That Gibbon (words and music by Bill Oddie)

Back in the late 1970s, before I had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nor even of Benny Hill, for that matter… I discovered The Goodies, thanks to the CBC’s belated programming of their exploits*. While The Goodies do share a *lot* of DNA with the Monty Python gang (they were school chums, close friends, collaborators and friendly competitors practically all along the way), this trio’s comedic format veers sharply away from the Pythons’ methods: Graeme, Bill and Tim play ‘amplified’ versions of themselves, and use the skit format sparingly, reserving it for mid-show intermission ‘blackouts‘.

While the trio was formed in 1970, it only made its comic strip début (and bow) in 1973**, where they held a weekly feature in the pages of Cor!!, also making an appearance in the magazine’s 1974 annual and The Goodies Annual, the whole lot hitting kiosks in ’73.

« Apparently licensed for just the one year, The Goodies were unique in the fact they were the only adapted characters featured with the comic’s pages with copyright credit being given to Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke Taylor (sans hyphen) and Graeme Garden. According to Robert Ross’ book The Complete Goodies, the strips were all authorised and approved by The Goodies prior to publication and Tim still displays an original Cor!! strip in his study. »

Scans (and detailed synopses!) of The Goodies’ Cor!! shenanigans are helpfully provided by their fan site, goodiesruleok.com.

And now, some introductions from the aforementioned The Goodies Annual 1974 (the only one of its kind, poor thing):

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The Goodies’ brainbox, Graeme Garden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Feb. 18, 1943. « He lists his hobbies as painting, drawing, playing the guitar and banjo, apologising for playing the guitar and banjo, trying not to travel in cars and, of course, being a Goodie. »

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The Goodies’ resident singer-songwriter and ornithologist, Bill Oddie, born in Rochdale, Lancashire, on July 7, 1941.

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« Tim Brooke-Taylor was born very suddenly in Buxton on July 17th, 1940, among those dark, satanic hills of Derbyshire. » I like the sound of that… very Luke Haines. He was The Goodies’ conservative type, and the one who greatly relishes essaying the cross-dressing roles. And he was, after all, the fair one without any of that pesky, telltale facial hair.

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Among other, er, goodies, the annual contains a whopping 33 pages of comics. However, as it was fairly typical for UK comics of the period, no creator credits appear anywhere.

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« The comic strips form a large part of the official Goodies Annual, although “none of us had anything to do with the design or stories”, explains Graeme, “but we were very happy with the results.” »

Goodies, Goodies

Take a little good advice, try a trip to paradise
It’s not hard to find, you’ve got it on your mind
Can’t pretend it wouldn’t be nice
It’s whatever turns you on, Goodies

A circus or a seaside pier, a sausage or a can of beer
A stripper or a clown, prices going down
You can make it happen here
Fun for all the family, Goodies

Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum

Goodies are coming for you and you and you and you
It’s anything you want it to be, a record or an OBE
A four minute mile, a policeman with a smile
I know you won’t believe what you see.

(The first Goodies Theme; words and music by Bill Oddie.)

-RG

*« In Canada, the series was shown in on the CBC national broadcast network during the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the traditional “after school” time slot, later a Friday night 10 pm slot, and occasionally in a midnight slot. Several episodes were also shown on the CTV Television Network. In the mid-1970s it was shown on TVOntario on Saturday evenings, repeated on Thursday evenings, until being replaced by Doctor Who in 1976. » [ source ]

**I hear they’ve turned up in The Beano, circa 1994.