AUTHOR: DAVID ROACH | PUBLISHER: REBELLION | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
David Roach's Master of British Comic Art is as much curated as authored, gathering some 200 of its 385 pages of work from artists past and present. In some respects, the book is a long-overdue reply to P.R Garriock's 1978 Masters of Comic Book Art, a much slimmer volume that opened many fans’ eyes to the diversity of comic book illustration including works by Moebius, Eisner, and Britain's own Barry Windsor-Smith and Frank Bellamy. It can't be a coincidence that Roach's new book reproduces a page from Dan Dare that has a panel that Garrock's book used for its cover. Windsor-Smith and Bellamy are the only artists to appear in both books.
It is not just the focus on British artists that makes Roach's work different from its Seventies counterpart. There is an air of nostalgia and loss in Masters of British Comic Art that comes partly from the demise of many of the creators being celebrated but also the terrible loss of comics themselves. It is not surprising that the book contains a great many versions of Judge Dredd as the character represents virtually the only surviving comic title in the UK (although the Commando pocketbook line is still available from good newsagents everywhere - whatever a ‘newsagent’ is these days!).
Roach's collection obviously reflects available material, rights, and the author's own interests although the latter are at their most diverse here. Still, the book needed pages more devoted to the humour/cartoon genre and there are notably omissions, especially from the long-running Doctor Who Magazine strip. That said, the book does contain examples of Jon Pertwee's Doctor from the painterly Gerry Haylock (TV Action) and Harry Lindfield (Countdown).
In many ways, Britain has been a great home for comics. It has benefitted from reprints from the American superhero genre, perennially popular European strips such as Tin Tin and Asterix but also, as Roach demonstrates, an incredibly rich history of indigenous art and comic publishing including the wonderful silliness of Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale in The Beano, Cor! and Wham!, the illustrative realism of boys and girls adventure strips and the painterly tradition found on the covers of Look and Learn, The Sphere, and Once Upon a Time.
Roach's book is an education in comic illustration. The text pages are incredibly well-researched and take the reader on an informative and entertaining journey to a time when there were comics for everyone from the so-called ‘nursery’ comics (Playhour, Pippin, Teddy Bear) though the comedic silliness of the Dandy, Buster, Sparky et al) to the thrills and spills of adventure strips for boys and girls (such as Lion and Misty) and the ‘grown-up’ world of Britain's underground including Street Comix and Sin City: Tales of Urban Paranoia.
Back in the day, Masters of Comic Book Art was an important validation of drawing comics as valuable contribution to popular visual culture. It's to be hoped that Masters of British Comic Art, through its research, archival work and copious examples (often reproduced from original artworks) will further this process although I suspect that Roach is preaching to the converted. Despite this, this is a must-have for anyone who takes pleasure in illustration and cartooning and a valuable souvenir of an industry on the brink of disappearing. Comics! Read 'em or lose 'em; ahh, too late, most have already gone.