Saturday 14 November 2009

Early Influences

As you may or may not be aware, David Fickling the guy behind the eponymous DFC comic and arguably the only U.K. publisher with a real mission statement to create comic albums of originality and verve to equal those in the rest of Europe is launching a new series of albums based on some of the strips to appear in the now late lamented DFC. The first three, Mezolith, Spidermoon and Good Dog, Bad Dog go on sale next April and I would urge anybody remotely interested in graphic novels to check them out and even order them - they're all great and will be a real quality addition to any comic enthusiast's shelf space.

I did hear an interview with David Fickling in which he cited the comics of his youth as being one one of the dynamics behind him wanting to revive the fortunes of this art form in the UK. He mentioned in particular Boy's World and a comic strip titled "Wrath of the Gods". Scripted by Michael Moorcock it ran in the centre pages of the comic and was a spectacular tour de force, not only because of Moorcock's intensely suspenseful and it has to be said dark script but because of the truly stunning artwork by one Ronald Sidney Embleton.

Hearing that David Fickling had been as awestruck by this strip as I was reminded me of what a huge impact Ron Embleton's art had on my early youth. I was first introduced to his work via my ever indulgent dad who bought me a copy of Express Weekly which featured Embleton's Wulf the Briton as it's lead story. Embleton by this stage in his career had been working over ten years in the industry having cut his teeth with a variety of comic strips for small, schlocky publishers in post war London since the age of sixteen. By the time he embarked on Wulf at the age of twenty six he was a real veteran and sufficiently confident to undertake drawing two whole pages of Wulf the Briton a week, in addition to scripting and lettering the thing and - unbelievably - still taking on other work.

This was in complete contrast to Frank Hampson who would have been handsomely rewarded (at least in the short term) for his Dan Dare strip. But Hampson ever mindful of the grand project and dreaming of royalties and liscensing deals that were destined to never happen for him, would dissipate his resources on assistants, models, a studio - the list goes on. Embleton ever the pragmatist, just did the work.

The pages were drawn half to twice up and in the early days of the strip were rendered with brush and ink (latterly he did use a pen as well) over layers of carefully worked up coloured ink, with details etched out with opaque gouache. The overall effect was simply stunning, the guy could draw like a God and nothing was beyond his abilities. I spent most of my formative years wanting to be able to draw like Ron Embleton he was to my mind simply peerless in terms of illustration.

There's no doubt about it but with artists such as Embleton, Bellamy and Frank Hampson, U.K. comics were a force to be reckoned with in the late fifties and early sixties, fifty years later and with some of the talents out there at the moment there's no reason why we can't achieve a similar renaissance - so go and order those DFC albums.


  1. Thought I was over on Bear Alley for a moment there :-)

    As a nipper I was given the 1965 Boys' World Annual, which had a 3-page Wrath of the Gods story about Arion travelling to the underworld that made a very strong impression on me. So that was Mike Moorcock, eh? Makes sense.

    Curiously, the videogame God of War has much the same stark, visceral, doom-laden flavour. But the guys who developed that must be way too young to have been influenced by Wrath of the Gods, surely.

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  3. Funnily enough Embleton later stated that he really didn't enjoy working on "Wrath of the Gods" because he just felt too uncomfortable with the script, which I really did find surprising as he turned in such a superb job.

    I'm now off to (quickly) check out God of War, then knock out a birthday card for my mate Jon (another illustrator so it can't be too half assed) and then meet up with him down the pub while we put the world to rights.

    And then back home and get that next page of Cloud 109 completed before I completely lose momentum.

    I've got a way to go before I catch up with Leo's staggering page count for Mirabilis.

    Erm ... and ulp ... how many pages have you guys completed?

  4. It's 187 pages - Leo's just inking the last couple this weekend. We originally planned that the whole strip would run in real time, ie 52 five-page episodes, each covering the events of one week through the whole year. But I just worked out that by the end of the book we only got as far January 19, 1901!

  5. Awesome!

    Bloody hell - seriously awesome!

    Might have to be just a quick half down the boozer and then black coffees for the rest of the day while I make some attempt to at least get some more pages in the can.

    How many pages will Mirabilis run in total to?

  6. Will definately check them out, thanks for showing the 'Wrath of the Gods' pages have never seen them before.

  7. The total probably will be... er, 187 pages. It's not a project that Random House expected to be lumbered with - they just got it by accident really when The DFC folded. So there's nobody there who's actually asking us to finish it. Leo and I couldn't just drop it without at least completing the first book, but now we figure that if we're self-funding ourselves anyway, we ought to be working on projects that we're in control of.

    Who has the rights to Wrath of the Gods? I'd buy that in book form!

  8. I don't know about the rights to Wrath of the Gods, Wulf the Briton I know is problematic but it seems like a real lost opportunity if legal considerations prevent some of these classic strips from finding a new audience.

    The Embleton Wrath of the Gods ran to twenty three episodes after which he relinquished the task and the strip was continued by John M. Burns, who admittedly did a good job but for me at least it never achieved the magic of the Embleton version.

    I'll bung another page on here seeing as everyone is enjoying it so much.

  9. Hello Peter thank's 4 comment...
    great blog you have :)

  10. fantastic stuff Peter i wish some one would publish this work in a nice delux hardback with the art cleaned up in photoshop so not to look too taken from printed material instead of the original art boards Moorcock, Embleton and J. M. Burns = hit in my book and Heros by Bellamy would be another on my wish list

  11. Well I must admit that I've got to agree with you there Jon - although there is a vague possibility with at least one of the items on your list seeing print in the not too distant future.

    Ironically I do remember supplying Paul Gravett with a scan of one of Embleton's boards for his book on British comics. Because the inks which Embleton had used were not light fast they had faded quite badly and in the end I had to restore the picture using the printed version as my source master.

    Took a hell of a lot of Photoshop retouching but I was pleased with the way it came out when I spied a oopy of Paul's book a year or two later.

  12. Brilliant, thanks for linking the DFC Library! :-)