Tag Archives: David Roach

A Very British Affair

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.

Rebellion Specials 2020 – Part 5: The John Steel Files/ Sexton Blake/ Misty Winter Special

First off I want to praise the Rebellion customer service. I recently moved house and when these comics didn’t appear even though I had updated my address, I contacted them. They got back to me quickly and very generously sent me new copies. I have bought many books through there website and the service they provide is equal to quality of the books they produce.

To the books themselves, first we have Thriller Picture Library – The John Steel Files which reprints two John Steel Case-books that appeared in the 1960s, both stories drawn by Luis Bermejo, the writer is unknown. This is the first special to not feature new stories, with such a back catalogue, I think as long as we are also getting specials with new content, having some of these reprint specials is probably more cost efficient than having all reprints collected in hardbacks/tpbs. This is bigger than what the normal picture library format would be and seems a thick book, but with mostly 2 panels per page it isn’t dense. The stories have also been coloured by Pippa Bowland, while I don’t have the original B&W to compare to, the colouring compliments the story, using more muted colours that doesn’t distract from the art. The cover is very stylish by VV Glass and quite different from the story they draw in Misty Special (discussed further on).

The two stories are Bullets in the Sun (reprinted from Thriller Picture Library #371) and Play it Cool (reprinted from Thriller Picture Library #379). This is another book that I can appreciate on objective level but didn’t engage me as much as other specials. In the first story John Steel, private detective, comes to aid of an old WWII comrade, Paul Wallace, when his son is kidnapped. Wallace is about to testify about an international conspiracy and it is up to Steel to find out who is behind the kidnapping and blackmail. In Play it Cool Steel again is looking for someones son, this time a university student who has gone missing in France. But how does the missing son, tie in with some random murders and blackmail? I liked this story better, perhaps because there was a bit more mystery to it.

The next special also features a private detective in The Return of Sexton Blake and this classic character intrigued me much more than John Steel did. This special is interesting as it focuses on the history of character as well as stories themselves. We get such articles as the publishing history of Sexton Blake, the people who drew the character, the redesign for the book collections and how Sexton Blake and Victor Drago are the same character.  In 1979, Victor Drago appeared in Tornado and was written as a Sexton Blake story, but a last minute rights issue, meant a change in the character’s name. In this special, the first 7-part Drago story is reprinted now with the Blake name restored. The story Terror of Troll Island! (by Bill Henry and Mike Dorey) is a classic detective story akin to Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, where Blake and his assistant Tinker investigate a series of murders at an eccentric writer’s isolated home.

A new story The Death & Life of Sexton Blake, (by George Mann and Jimmy Broxton) sees Blake pitted against one of his foes The Chessman, who seemingly defeats Blake. The final complete story we get is another reprint this time a text story Lady Molly’s First Case, (by E. Sempill) which sees Blake team up with Lady Molly to catch a jewel thief.  In this story Lady Molly very much takes the lead, a very impressive story and despite it first been printed in 1908, it reads as if it could have been written today. There is one more text story The Case of the Seventh Key, (by W.W. Sayer) but this is more of a teaser as we only get the first two chapters and get the conclusion of the story, readers will have to get the Sexton Blake Library Book 3: Allies. It is an effective bit of marketing. I must say this is the special I was most pleasantly surprised with as I had little knowledge going in and no big expectations. With interesting stories and it’s historical context explained this special was engaging and for a character that has bee around since 1893 he still stands the test of time.

Finally we have the Misty Winter Special, in it two stories Infection and Home for Christmas. Like the Tammy & Jinty special limiting the stories has the benefit of really developing these spooky tales. Home for Christmas (Writer: Lizzie Boyle, Artist: David Roach) is the shorter story at 12 pages. Martha is babysitting 2 kids on Christmas Eve, when their parents can’t make it back due to fallen tree, she has to stay the night and then strange things began to happen. I felt the pacing could have been better in places of this story, and that some of the characters actions seemed odd. Like going outside in the rain at night with the kids you are babysitting, if this was meant to be ghosts already having influence its not clear, but seems to be more contrivance to get the plot to the next point. During their excursion outside to try and get a phone signal, the phone drops down a well, then later Martha gets photos sent to her from inside the well. Here’s where the story gets better as what follows is some very creepy stuff and Roach’s art is perfect throughout, particularly the faceless ghost children are haunting.

Infection (by V.V. Glass and Anna Savory) is the stronger of the 2 stories but also has the advantage of more pages and a slow build up. Charlotte is a new scholarship girl at a prestigious boarding school, she feels she doesn’t fit in and narrates her thoughts through her journal, that all students have to keep as a class assignment. At first the other girls make fun of her because she doesn’t know the rules of the school, but then the girls rules get more bizarre and Char thinks they are just trying to mess with her. But the girls are getting more agitated and Char realizes there’s more going on and she tries to figure out what is causing it. She puts forward many theories and all the time the fearful threat hangs over the school. There are many graphic descriptions of things we don’t see, leaving a lot to our own imagination but this is effectively done. It is very atmospheric and in true Misty style ends on an ominous note.

And here we are at the end of 2020, while a few in this year’s special bundles weren’t to my taste, it was money worth spent, as well as a solid return of favourites (Misty, Tammy &Jinty, Cor!Buster) I also found comics that I may not have bought individually but would have been missing out on (Smash! The Return of Sexton Blake). As always I continue to look forward to what Rebellion will bring next year.