This book to give it it’s full title, A Very British Affair The Best of Classic Romance Comics has been out a number of months already, but it is a book that is a joy to take the time to go through each page. Beautiful art throughout makes you pause at panels to take everything in and as we go through 21 years of stories from 1957 to 1978 we can see the evolution of British culture of the time, making it a fascinating read.
David Roach has curated an excellent book, with an impressive 57 stories reproduced here and with original artwork used for the most part, making sure we’re seeing the best quality of printing. The stories come from a variety of romance comics that were so popular in their time, mainly; Mirabelle, Valentine, Serenade and Mates. To have so many creators credited is also a massive plus and we even get some short biographies for them at the back of the book. While the gorgeous artwork will rightly be a big draw, the stories crafted here have also more to say, than one may think.
With such a large number of stories and such variety, it was hard to pick out a few strips to highlight, but here were some standouts for me:
To start with the first story from 1957 showcases Shirley Bellwood’s work in Dark Secret from Mirabelle, while the story of a blind woman not wanting to burden her sweetheart, and the trope of her blindness being cured by a bump to head, may not be the most revolutionary, it still is worthy of its place in this book, with its beautiful colour first page and as a representation of its time, it is interesting to see this era and how the stories evolve from this to the later ones presented in the book.
As we progress through the decades we get more interesting storylines. A New Kind of Lovin’ from Valentine, 1962, is a 3 part story with a sci-fi twist. In this case the the writer is also known, Jenny Butterworth, she was writer on many of the stories in this book and only one other writer is known to have written some of these stories; Philip Douglas. It seems a bit of an omission then, that she doesn’t get a few lines in the Biographies section at the back which only focuses on the artists. In this story a woman’s cottage is invaded by 3 strange men, who are here on a mission, there is an instant attraction with one o the men, but they are not around here… The art by Victor De La Fuente gets to show off some countryside scenery as well as two would be lovers burgeoning relationship.
Dream Portrait also from 1962 but in Serenade, is where we get this hardbook’s vibrant cover with art by Angel Badia Camps. The story has a woman finding paintings of herself that came to an artist in his dreams but she has trouble living up to his dream expectations, but refreshingly she stands up to him making it clear she is not some dream and he has to accept her for herself.
While these stories were usually told by the women characters, some stories had fun playing around with different perspectives. In Love? Not for Me!, from Serenade 1963 with art by Jordi Lonaron, the story is told by Clive a man who isn’t a mug to be pushed into being engaged… at least not unless he’s crazy about the girl! Then in What Jenny Saw from Mirabelle, 1968, a young girl sees her sister Kate’s romance in jeopardy when her boyfriend has to move away, she doesn’t see the fuss but maybe one day she will. Art in this story by the talented Trini Tinture. In Did Somebody Mention Love? also from Mirabelle, 1970, Nancy and Chris both tell different versions of how they met. With art by Purita Campos showing off her thick lines and close up character work.
While there are a couple of multi part stories in the book, the rest are complete stories with The Getaway Girls from Mirabelle 1967 being an exception, so it is worth a mention for being the one serial presented here. It follows four models who come from very different backgrounds, that are brought together by Mr Warren to do shows around Britain. Over 10 episodes we follow the girls adventures written by Phillip Douglas and art by Antonio Bosch Penalva.
These stories weren’t afraid to touch on the supernatural as well with Strange Memory Mirabelle, 1968 with art by Luis Garcia Mozos and Ferry Me Away from Mates, 1975, with art by Jordi Franch. Both featuring broken-hearted women, Ferry Me Away ends on a more hopeful note, while Strange Memory has a more sadder ending.
Another unusual story Cave- Man Courtship, from Mates 1976, set in stone age, has a man Tuff, ahead of his time thinking of inventions like engines, Dawn is very in love with him but all his thinking is very worrisome for the rest of the cave people who think he needs a bash on the head to cure him! Quite a silly story, but fun and with Jordi Badia Romero striking art, it makes this a memorable one.
It doesn’t need to be supernatural or science fiction for stories of love and heartbreak to be found in unusual places. The Quiet Vandal from Mirabelle, 1971, with art by Luis Martinex Roca, has our protagonist, Jo meet Tim at a football match when a fight begins between some football hooligans. While Tim isn’t rowdy like those other men, Jo finds out he is a different kind of vandal. A really strongly written story as well the great art in the unusual setting. This story probably tops my favourites in the book.
That is just a small selection of what this book offers, it shows even within the one genre of romance, the diversity and creativity that can be achieved. It is clear the amount of work that has gone into choosing and reproducing these strips and captures a period in British history and comics that deserves to be remembered, along with the creators behind the stories. It is a beautiful book that is a must for any comic fan.