I am very sorry to post the news that John Armstrong has just died. John Freeman from the DownTheTubes website has put together a tribute post, and additionally the site has got an interview “In His Own Words” detailing John’s comics career. Lew Stringer has also posted a tribute on his blog, with some great art samples included.
John Armstrong was a fantastic artist with an instantly recognizable style and great strengths in the key elements of girls comics. I am very glad that the Rebellion reprint of Bella came out in time for him to (hopefully) know that his work was being properly appreciated once again.
One of the other keynote talks that will be of particular interest to readers of this blog was the one by David Roach. If you have read his most recent book, “Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art“, then you would have found a lot of familiar material in his presentation, but we had the opportunity to hear him give the material in a lively talkative format and with the invaluable aid of some gorgeous pages of art and painting that David brought along. As with the Anne Digby talk, this has been recorded by Alex Fitch and hopefully will be broadcast on his internet radio show in due course. For now though, some notes, impressions, and key points I took away from it. (I am not, however, going to go into individual comics artists,: you need to look at the book or attend another of David’s talks in order to do that, I can’t do them justice here.)
David took us through the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, explaining how there came to be such a large number of Spanish artists working outside of their own country (in the UK but also in the US and in other European countries). He explained that after paper rationing came to an end in Britain, there was a tremendous demand for comics, magazines, and story papers. (We’d already heard in the Anne Digby talk the fact that School Friend in its heyday was selling 1 million copies a week, and David repeated this figure in his talk too.) There were just not enough British artists to keep up with the demand – the pre-war artists were getting older and literally dying out, the younger generation had gone off to the war and been injured or killed, and when the Amalgamated Press advertised for artists to join their stable, they only got two responses! So when European agencies started to knock at the doors of British publishers, they were very welcome. Not all of the agencies were Spanish – the Belgian agency A.L.I in 1954 started the flood, and Italian agencies Cosmopolitan and D’Ami were likewise two of the early strong contenders.
However, the Spanish agencies such as Selecciones Illustradas (S.I.) run by Josép Toutain, and Bardon (co-run by Barry Coker), and the Bruguera studio associated with the A.L.I. mentioned above, ended by dominating the scene to such an extent that it it is thought that at least 385 Spanish artists worked in the UK – more than there were British artists working in the same market during that time period!
In addition to touching on more well-known grounds (showing how much fantastic work the Spanish artists did, by displaying beautiful work in a range of styles, and explaining how editors conceived of certain groups of artists as matching certain kinds of work (Argentinian artists = muscular war artists, Spanish artists = romantic dreamers suited to girls and romance comics)), David also highlighted some unexpected aspects of the Spanish comics boom that I hadn’t previously been aware of. One of these was that the Spanish artists experienced this work not only as financially rewarding (the pay rate was hugely much better than they were getting in Spain, and the exchange rate was in their favour too) but also politically and socially rewarding too. These were young men whose work meant they got the chance to travel outside of Francoist Spain, and who additionally got sent reference material from the UK, so that they heard about the Beatles and suchlike popular culture icons before anyone else in Spain did. Indeed, they were some number of years ahead of the curve! Lest you think it was all one-way though, David was at pains to point out that images like the Serenade cover above is pop art avant la lettre – it was drawn some years before the Swinging 60s that you would assume it was representing, and so you can only think of it as more in the nature of an inspiration for the look of that time then a representation of what was already happening. Spanish-drawn romance comics as an inspiration for pop art and the Carnaby Street look? Stranger things have happened…
The other surprising aspect that David mentioned was that there was much more awareness of, and renegotiating of, copyright than I’d supposed. The British comics normally didn’t print credits, and although in the Spanish market it was usual to sign the artwork this might be done using a pseudonym or a variant of the artist’s legal name, and this might vary over the years of an artist’s career. It was not unusual for a proper identification of the original creator to be far from easy to establish (especially if they did most of their work in the British market and hence were not credited). In the British market, also, it was vanishingly unusual for creators to own their own material – the standard procedure for Fleetway, and I believe for D C Thomson too, was to cast the payment cheque in the form of a contract which assigned all rights to the publisher in perpetuity, so that in order to get paid there was no other option than signing away your rights. But David brought out some examples of painted artwork that was painted ‘on spec’ by artists – both war scenes and pensive domestic scenes – which were sold on a ‘first print rights’ basis, so that the publisher was only granted the rights to to use that material once. They were then able to re-sell the material if they could find a market. David had one example, a painting of a woman in a bedroom, which was sold to several places: women’s magazines in different countries, a romance comic, and to be the cover of a mass market paperback. No wonder the Spanish artists had a tradition of tending to go into fine art after some 10 – 15 years as a comics artist – it feels like a natural move, given the above.
The talk attendees were, I think, blown away by the range of art shown, but they also had pertinent questions to follow up with. Some of them were a bit unanswerable – how did the Spanish artists manage to produce so much output, and how did they come to be so very good at such a young age? Others touched on the political situation and drew out further aspects of what David had said about the political freedom that working for a foreign publisher gave – many of the artists became or already were Marxists, radical leftists, and subversives of one sort or another (at least one of whom had to flee the country at short notice). Finally, I know that there was a real rush at the end of the talk to come and look at the artifacts that he had brought along – a number of original pages of art (above) painted images, and even one of the portfolio samples that the agencies carried from publisher to publisher to entice them to sign up a new artist.
There was of course much more in the talk that is beyond what I can go into in a blog post here. Do seek out David’s book (linked to above), listen to Alex Fitch’s broadcast of the talk as and when it comes out, or take the opportunity to see him talk on this subject if you ever get a chance.
As promised, a few notes so far on the comics conference I am attending here in Bournemouth. Julia Round is one of the key organisers and as such it was always likely to have interest for girls comics readers as her own research interest at the moment is on Misty and the gothic. Also attending, speaking, and helping to organise the event are Joan Ormrod (who is interested in British weekly publications such as Mirabelle and Roxy) and Dr Mel Gibson whose “Remembered Reading” was discussed on this blog.
The key event on the first day of the conference was an interview session at the end of the day between Mel Gibson and Anne Digby. This was recorded by Alex Fitch (of internet radio channel Resonance FM) with the aim of transmitting it at a future date. Anne Digby talked about her start in working life, getting her first job at 16 as an editorial trainee or apprentice at Amalgamated Press in London, working on School Friend. This matched her early desire, from the age of 8 or so, to be a writer. Learning on the job and being paid to do so was right up her street. She had been a reader of comics and of School Friend itself as a child, so she was particularly thrilled from that perspective.
There was one other trainee when she joined the team, another young woman; they worked with an older lady, Isobel Winchester (corrected following confirmation with AD) who was an old hand and trained them in sub-editing tasks. In the talk, Anne didn’t go into lots of detail of what those tasks consisted of, but she did say that it included editing texts sent in by freelancers and other writers by tidying them up. Afterwards in separate conversation she also explained that it included the commissioning of work too, including the matching of artists to writers. It was very much a journalistic job, pulling together the finished creation that the reader consumes.
In case the above misleads on the prevalence of women in the comics business, Mel did ask about whether there were many other women writers or artists that worked at the time that Anne Digby was associated with the Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC as it became over the years. Evelyn “Polly” Flinders, artist on the long-running girls school story “The Silent Three”, was an obvious example for her to mention; Anne had memories of her as a lovely person who didn’t look stereotypically ‘artistic’ (she wore tweeds and had her hair in a schoolma’arm bun). One interesting snippet was that Flinders was unusual in not having an agent to represent her, as the other artists generally did. (Writers did not have agent representation, but artists did.) She would turn up to deliver her art in person, carrying it in a large portfolio, so she was a regular figure to Digby. However, the number of women creative contributors engaged in producing the comics seems otherwise to have been relatively minimal.
The expectation in that job was that people would take the opportunity to do extra writing jobs on a freelance basis, and eventually transition to going completely freelance. Anne did indeed do this. She wrote text stories and comics for A.P. / Fleetway for some years, and children’s novels from the mid- to late 70s onwards. Indeed, her own take on why the comics market declined is precisely because of the rise of children’s novels at ‘pocket money’ prices – the Armada Lions and the like of the times expanded the market beyond what Puffin had done when they stood alone as the big name in children’s books.
Digby is clearly pleased with and proud of her work even at this distance in time; she has favorites that she happily cites (such as semi-supernatural story “The Dance Dream” and horse story “Olympia Jones”. This is as it should be, of course – her work was read by masses of children and stayed with those readers for a long time, and it stands up to the test of time on re-read. I hope that her wish to see “Olympia Jones” and other work re-issued will come to pass.
Further posts will follow, covering the David Roach talk in particular. However one thing I can quickly share is a photo of the script that Anne Digby brought along to the event: for a Strange Story called “The Cat”. The script was around 5 pages long but I didn’t photograph the rest of it. How lovely to see physical artifacts still around from that time, and still legible too!
With many thanks to Christine Ellingham for sending through such detailed and interesting answers to the interview questions below – and of course also thanks to her for getting in contact in the first place!
Question 1 – Can you please give a bit of background context to your time in comics – when did you start doing work for picture strips / comics titles, and what got you into them in the first place? You say that your time as a strip artist was short – what led you to cut it short, if there was anything specific?
As with a lot of the jobs I have done over the years, I arrived at IPC, then Fleetway Publications, purely by accident and good luck.
I had been a staff layout artist plus fashion illustrator on a girls’ teenage magazine called, Go Girl! (This is where I first met Malcolm Shaw.) Go Girl! was part of City Magazines, the magazine division of The News of the World. This was in 1968.
Unfortunately, Go Girl! folded after a very short life and it was suggested that I approach Leonard Matthews, the then Director of Juvenile Publications, not sure of his correct title, at Fleetway. I did, and was offered a job there. In those days it was relatively easy to move around from one job to another.
Initially, I was placed in a department with several other people, not a specific title, where we did odd jobs for different papers, i.e. illustration, lettering, pasteup and, in the case of Alf Saporito, cartoons. I remember John Fernley being one of us, possibly Tony Hunt, though I’m not sure.
After a short period I was moved to the Nursery group, under the managing editor, Stuart Pride, and there I worked on a new publication called Bobo Bunny. This had come from Holland and needed adjusting size wise and certain content adaptation making it suitable for the UK market.
By now John Sanders was the overall editor of the juveniles. I have a feeling I wasn’t the first to be offered the position of art editor of a new girls’ paper called Tammy but I accepted it nevertheless and moved from juvenile to teenage. John Purdie was the editor and Gerry Finley-Day and Iain MacDonald made up the editorial team.
Under John, we gathered writers and artists and the aim was to compete with D.C. Thomson’s Bunty and maybe other titles of that type. I remember John and I made a trip to Rome to talk to the Giorgetti stable of artists and we were wined and dined by Giorgio Giorgetti and his American wife. We also attracted all the relevant artist’s agents, Danny Kelleher and his son Pat of Temple Arts, Linden Artists and Bardon Art for example, and collected together a group of strip artists, writers and balloon letterers.
Eventually, Tammy was launched and did very well. I was able to contribute a small amount of artwork, the back cover of the first edition is mine, but really my job was to get it all together, see the agents and in one case, the artists themselves (I remember Roy Newby used to deliver his own work) but usually the agents would deliver the artwork.
I have to admit, I was not entirely happy in the role of art editor. I had studied illustration at Hornsey College of Art and that was what I wanted to do. I left Fleetway 1971/72. Barry Coker and Keith Davis of Bardon Art represented mainly Spanish strip artists. I thought that maybe I could ‘have a go’ at doing this as a freelance and doing it from Spain. Barry and Keith took me on and my then partner and I moved to Spain. Just like that! This was 1972. Amazing really.
First of all my work was for D.C. Thomson; they waited for a whole series to be complete before publishing so as I was a novice and slow, this suited me. Fleetway needed an episode completed in a week, too much for me then. I am hazy about the titles, there may have been something called, “Warning Wind Bells” and another with an Egyptian theme with a character or a cat called Nofret, or these could have been later for IPC. I have a few old diaries of that time and one story I worked on I have only the initials of the title, S.O.S. I wonder what that stood for! 1972. There was “Topsy of the Pops”, “Vet on the Hill” and “Lindy Under the Lake”, all for Thomson’s circa 1973. (This is the date that I drew them, not necessarily of publication.)
As agents, Barry and Keith were superb. They made sure I was never without work, one story followed immediately after another, that I was paid promptly and they gave me such good advice regarding page layout, technique and story interpretation.
While I was still working on Tammy I started to have problems with my right hand (I am right handed), it not functioning properly. This continued to get worse when we were in Spain and instead of speeding up and refining my style the opposite was happening, my work deteriorated. Bardon Art kept me going but eventually we had to return to England in 1974, where I continued to struggle depressingly.
During the Spanish time I illustrated at least two Annual covers, Tammy 1972, including the front endpapers depicting National Costumes and Sandie Annual 1973, plus various spot illustrations. I still have these annuals. Or I could have done these before Spain.
After inconclusive tests that found nothing terribly wrong with my hand or me generally, the GP at the time suggested I learn to use my left hand. After thinking initially, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I realised this was my only option. I remember one ten-part story for Thomson’s started with me using my right hand and gradually with training, ended using my left hand. I can’t remember which story that was.
From then on things got better. I speeded up and developed my style. Bardon got me the first IPC job. I’m not one hundred percent sure but it could have been, Cove of Secrets or Secret Cove, something like that, for the Jinty Annual possibly 1974. Also The Whittington’s Cat Princess, DCT, around the same time. To this day, I draw, paint and write using my left hand.
“Concrete Surfer” came later. That particular story stands out for me because it was such fun to do. It was all action with hardly any background, it was very modern and I love doing figure work. I remember we bought a skate board so that I could see what it looked like from all angles, a helmet too, still got them!
I cannot remember how many strip stories I worked on after “Concrete Surfer” but at some point I felt the need to move on, that I wasn’t being stretched any more. Bardon Art were no longer able to represent me, as strip was their speciality, and sadly, we parted company. I started contributing illustrations to Oh Boy, Loving and other IPC papers for older teens.
After a few years I moved on again and, as an illustrator, contributed to national newspapers, women’s magazines, house magazines, mail order publications, coin design, greetings cards and so on.
The work was still there after my retirement but the need to move on again got the better of me and now I paint, back in Spain.
Question 2 – On the blog we are always very keen to try to establish any creator credits for artists and writers, as these are otherwise very likely to get lost in the mists of time. As far as we can tell from the art style, it looks like you drew three stories for Jinty (“Race for a Fortune” (1977-78), “Concrete Surfer” (1978), and “Dance Into Darkness” (1978) plus some covers and spot illustrations, as well as a story in the Lindy Summer Special (1975) and in the Jinty Annual 1978. It may be asking too much at this distance in time, but what other work do you recall doing and in which publications?
I would have to look at these stories that you mention to verify that I actually drew them! As I have said, Concrete Surfer stands out because for me it was a joy to do. The others, some I have managed to see on line and they do look vaguely familiar. At the time I used my partner as a model. I found men more difficult to draw than women and girls and I have noticed him in certain frames even though I tried hard to make them not look like him! When I see him I know that I did that one!
Question 3 – At the time it was very usual for artists and writers to work quite separately from each other, particularly freelance creators. Was this the case with you, or did you know others working in the same area? I ask partly in case there are any interesting stories or anecdotes that you can relate at this distance in time, but also in case you remember any names of people on the creative or publishing side that can feed in to our information of who did what.
Yes, this was the case for me. Artists do lead a solitary life and being freelance meant I would be at my desk not wanting to be interrupted. The deadlines, especially for IPC, were pretty tight. In my case the work would be delivered to Bardon Art and they would take it to the publication in the case of Fleetway, a few minutes walk away. Though in Spain I posted it directly to DCT. Nevertheless, Barry and Keith were very much involved and would add their comments sometimes.
While we were in Spain the work was rolled into a tube and posted. The tubes had to be open at both ends, some string threaded through and tied and a description of the contents had to be stuck to the outside, or left with an official at the post office.
I did meet one artist in Spain, Miguel Quesada. It was he who told me how to send artwork to England. He and some of his very large family, (a lot of mouths to feed), visited us unexpectedly. He was one of Bardon’s and a contributor to Tammy. I never met any of the other artists apart from Roy Newby, but that was before I was a contributor myself.
I did meet John Jackson when he was the art editor of Jinty and of course, Mavis Miller.
Question 4 – I am keen to understand more about the creative and publishing processes of the time. Presumably the writer supplied a script, and the editor chose the artist, but I don’t know how everything interacted. Did you get any guidance (say as part of the written script) or conversely any interference from the editor or art editor, or was the published page pretty much under your design control including the composition of the page?
Yes, the editor would choose the artist, art editors didn’t have much say in the matter, (Though this is just from my experience of working on Tammy.) And I think the editorial team would have suggested an idea for a story to the writer, again, this is how it happened on Tammy.
The artists were given a lot of guidance. Before even starting, we would be briefed on the content and theme of the story, to get to know the main characters. In the case of IPC the scripts would come one at a time, having only just been written, probably. The artist would receive a document containing the dialogue for each balloon and the positioning of the balloons had to be in that same order in the frame, also, there would be instructions on the action and mood in the frame, i.e. the heroine to look sad, the bad girl to look vindictive; a closeup and so on. The composition of each frame would be influenced by the order and size of the balloons and the overall design of the page would have had input from the editor. Quite a lot to work out, now I come to think of it! [An example of a script has been previously sent in by Pat Davidson, wife of Jinty story writer Alan Davidson: see link here.]
I always had to submit pencil roughs that would be shown to the editor for his/her comments. In Spain there were many visits to the post office, pencils going off to Stan Stamper in Dundee, coming back with comments, a finished, inked episode flying off, the two passing each other on the way. Also, we artists had to work ‘half up’ so there was a lot of ground to cover. [‘Half up’ means using a larger piece of art paper – half as much again as the finished size, so that for instance if the finished publication is 10 inches by 12 inches, half up would be 15 inches by 18 inches – with the artwork being photographically reduced in size during the production process.]
Question 5 – A slightly self-indulgent question but with a point to it – how did you come across the Jinty blog? Was it a case of happening to suddenly remember something you worked on years ago and searching for it, or being sent to it? (I ask because I would love to hear from other creators from the time, and if there is anything I can do to increase the chances of someone posting a comment saying that they wrote or drew a story from the time, I will certainly consider it.)
I’m trying to think. How did I find it? I get carried away on the internet sometimes. I think I was looking up an old friend of my now husband’s, the two of them used to work together on Eagle, Swift, Robin and Girl papers, as balloon letterers and layout artists. I started looking at Girl artwork as I do have a couple of Girl Annuals, No.3 and No.5. I noticed that the writers and artists all got a credit; one name I recognised was the artist Dudley Pout, I wonder if he contributed to any of the Jinty stories? Though he was probably of another generation.
The friend of my husband had died but in reading his obituary I found links to other sites and by then I was interested to see if any of my work was featured anywhere, the only title I could think of was, “Concrete Surfer”!
Roy Newby is thought to have drawn only only a few stories in Jinty, but he was certainly a long-running artist in other girls’ comics titles, particularly Girl, where he drew “Robbie of Red Hall” for many years. I do not yet have a fuller comic bibliography to list in this post, but on the UK Comics Forum, mention is also made of a story in the second Girl Annual which is specifically credited to him as artist: “Late For Dancing”, written by George Beardmore. Additionally, comics newssite Down The Tubes states that Newby worked on stories that appeared in other titles such as Tammy, Poppet, Judy, and Valentine.
Newby died relatively recently, having lived to the age of 98; the obituary in the Guardian, written by his son Mike, can be seen here. Mike Newby has likewise created a dedicated site showing his work (though not including many examples of comics, unfortunately for us). Finally, the Lambiek Comiclopedia has a little more on him here.
List of stories attributable to Roy Newby in Jinty:
When researching this post, I got in contact with Mike Newby and his sister Clare, who shared some memories with me. Mike told me that “…Dad’s original artwork for his comics was destroyed by the publishers as soon as they’d done the necessary for a print-run. (What a shame!) But Dad kept pretty much everything in printed form. He’d go and buy that week’s edition of whatever comic he’d drawn and stick it in a scrapbook.”.
Clare told me more details of her father’s time as a comics creator and her time as a reader of comics: “Through the late 50s and 60s, Friday afternoon was comic day! After school, I got School Friend, Girl’s Crystal and one other; Jackie/Tammy/or whatever. I saw Dad’s stuff free! Whenever I was ill in bed, I used to look at the scrapbooks of mostly Girl. Dad said he preferred girls papers as they didn’t have as many technical, fiddly buttons and switches (spaceships) as boys. Also, he used to get any scripts set in dancing schools as he could use me for reference (I studied ballet which I went on to do professionally). He particularly liked historical costume stories. As I got older, he worked on Valentine and Roxy. I was about 13 and wasn’t allowed to read them, so I would sneak into his studio when he was out and read about teen life. I put everything back and thought I’d got away with it, but he told me years later, he always knew!”
Courtesy of Clare Newby, here are two images of her father’s work – a photograph of some of the scrapbook pages, and a beautiful little sketch of herself reading them in bed, when ill at one time. Many thanks indeed to her for sending those in!
It was very sad to hear the news today that Jim Baikie has died, aged 77. It seems that he had been in declining health for a while – I had asked around previously to see if there was a chance of interviewing him for this blog but was given indications that this would not be very likely.
The page on this blog about him outlines his contribution to Jinty in particular, but since the time that that post was written, we have widened the scope of this blog to cover earlier titles such as Sandie (where he drew humour story “Our Big BIG Secret”) and June & School Friend (where he drew “Gymnast Jinty”). He was truly an all-rounder in girls’ comics. In tribute, below you can find some pages of his art brought together.
We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.
Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”
Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?
Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.
For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandieran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)
Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).
It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.
From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.
If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.
Rhoda Miller was a subeditor at DC Thomson and at IPC, working on girls comics and magazines between 1966 and 2008. In answer to my questions, she wrote the biographical piece below, which I am very happy to be able to publish. Many thanks, Rhoda!
I began work in August 1966 on Diana magazine in Dundee. Editor was George Moonie, Chief sub Ken Gordon. There were two other men subs and about four girls. From day one I was expected to write features and was sent out, (untrained!) to interview people such as The Walker Brothers, Amen Corner, Davy Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick and Titch (?). Story ideas were discussed at “story sessions” and ideas sent out to script writers. The subs’ job was to prepare them for publication. Sometime, this meant a complete re-write! In 1970, I was in a one-way love affair and decided to move to London. A bit drastic, but there you go!
When I applied to IPC they had just paid off a lot of people and the unions wouldn’t let them take anyone new on. But John Purdie was keen to have someone from Thomsons, he took me on as a free lancer, but I was to work in the office full time, and if anyone asked, I was to tell them I was a “visiting free lancer”.
I was put in Desmond Pride’s old office with Annie Deam, who had recently been removed from her post of School Friend editor, and like me, was working on projects. Eventually I went onto Sandie and worked as a sub. My days of working there are very hazy, and I wasn’t there very long before personal circumstances propelled me back to Dundee. I do remember the art editor, though. His name was John Jackson, and he had come from Eagle, and I remember the artists agent, Jack Wall, and his best mate, an artist whose surname was MacGillivray (can’t recall his first name) [Robert MacGillivray] but MacGillivray’s nephew was the legendary Ali McKay who also worked for IPC for quite a few years.
Back in Dundee, I rejoined DC Thomsons, and went to The Bunty, where Harold Moon was editor, Ian Munro chief sub. These were amongst the happiest days of my working life. I was there for several years, writing scripts for “The Four Marys” among others. At this time, the company still employed several long-standing script writers. One of the most prolific was a lady called Olive K Griffiths. Her scripts needed a lot of re-writing, as I recall. In the weekly comic we didn’t have features, but we did in the annuals, and these the staff were required to write.
After that, it was Spellbound with Ken Gordon editing, and David Donaldson chief sub. By this time, some of the subs were writing more and more of the scripts, and the company was employing fewer outside script writers. Spellbound, a spooky magazine, only ran a few years before it ran out of steam. I remember we had a lot of interference from Norman Fowler, who was one of our managing editors. He was keen to have horse racing stories in all the magazines!
After Spellbound, it was Mandy under Alan Halley, but when I objected to him wanting to run a horrible story about a wealthy couple planning to kidnap a poor girl and use her as a blood donor for their ill daughter, we fell out and I went to Nikki, where I wrote “The Comp”. As I say, my memory is not great for dates, or how long I was on each magazine, but in 1997, I was chief sub editor on Animals and You. Frances O’Brien was editor.
“Luv, Lisa” was my idea, and was quite an innovative idea, as it was a “dear diary” photo story rather than an illustrated one. Richard Palmer was the photographer (he also worked for IPC). After Animals and You, Frances and I moved to work on a new project, of which nothing came, but we did come up with the concept of The Goodie Bag Mag, and I worked on that with her, until I took early voluntary severance in 2008.
The artists who worked for us (that I remember ) were Claude Berridge, George Martin, David Matysiak, and Norman Lee. Spellbound had an amazing Spanish artist drawing one of our stories, but again the name escapes me! [I assume this may have been Romero who drew Supercats; if Rhoda is able to confirm then I will update.]
[Edited to add the following further additions from Rhoda, below. I had asked why she felt that the publishing industry moved from story-heavy titles to ones that were more focused on features or freebies, and about credits for artists and writers.]
I really cannot explain why the comics became less content and more free gifts, except to suggest that research showed children were less inclined to read great screeds of type and preferred more pictorial and less copy. The free gift phenomenon was very much a case of “the opposition are doing it, so should we.”
As to naming the script writers/artists, it was certainly a DC Thomson policy not to allow anyone to be credited. But some of the Spanish artists sneaked their names on and a blind eye was turned. Mainly because they were indispensable. Indeed, it was only in the past twenty years that Thomson allowed their newspapers reporters and columnists to get bylines!
I mentioned in my recent post about Jinty4 October 1975 that the story “Barracuda Bay” is one that we’ve understood to be attributable to Santiago Hernandez, while saying that it was an attribution I didn’t necessarily ‘get’ until I read the issues of Sandie that included “The Golden Shark”. The two stories both showcase a lot of scuba diving, so there are obvious elements to compare directly. There are also drawings of the two protagonists looking quite similar across both stories. Finally, in “The Golden Shark” in particular, there are other characters who look very similar to ones in “The Haunting of Hazel”, which is confidently attributed to Hernandez.
“The Golden Shark”:
And finally, “The Haunting of Hazel”:
Mistyfan draws my attention to another possible artist that could be a contender for the creator of “Barracuda Bay”: José Ariza, who you may know from his work in Misty or in DC Thomson’s Emma (he drew wartime thriller “The White Mouse”).
There are quite a lot of similarities, though I would tend to associate Ariza more closely with Trini Tinturé, who I could more readily imagine confusing his art with. The face of the White Mouse in the last panel immediately above, for instance, is very close to Trini’s style, I would say. Here is some more art from José Ariza, this time from Misty:
What elements of the artwork can help to decide between two artists? There are lots of small things to look at: noses, eyes, hands. To me, there are many similarities between the at on “Barracuda Bay” (henceforth BB) and on “The Golden Shark” (henceforth GS). The eyes and mouth on the character in the logo on panel one of BB looks very similar to the scuba-diving character (for instance in the bottom middle panel of of the first page of GS). And generally, the scuba diving art in the two stories matches very well, so I have no real doubt that these two stories are drawn by the same artist.
Triangulating with “The Haunting of Hazel” (henceforth HH), again there are matching elements: the hairstyles in GS and in HH share a lot of traits, such as the styling of the characters with the black bobs, who all seem to have fierce, floating hair. GS is less tightly drawn than either HH or GS, though.
But what about Ariza? Mistyfan draws attention to the detail of the eye of the White Mouse on the second page of that story: I would also highlight the pose of the nurse’s body in the first panel of the first page, along with the mouth of the nurse in this story. There’s no exact match of them with the Barracuda Bay art, but they feel similar in style nevertheless, as if you could imagine them belonging on the same page. I don’t feel at all the same about “Vengeance is Green”, though – the hairstyles in particular are much curvier and bouncier than those in HH and GS. Barracuda Bay has fewer visible hairstyles apart from in the logo picture, but there again I would call that wispy in a way that matches HH much more than the very ‘full’ hairdos in “Vengeance is Green”.
What do you think? On the basis of this comparison, I am happy with the assignment of “Barracuda Bay” to Santiago Hernandez, though I will certainly grant the similarities when set next to “The White Mouse”. But if “Vengeance Is Green” is more typical of Ariza’s art then I would see rather more differences than similarities between his work and “Barracuda Bay”. What details would you concentrate on? Or, what larger features would you look at to decide this sort of question – whole-body poses, page composition perhaps? None of it is an exact science – let’s have your views.