More of the stuff that I cut my teeth on. I grew up in a world still coming to terms with the ramifications of the Second World War, in the days when your parent's generation had been through the war and everywhere you looked there were these odd little reminders of it.
Children's TV although nominally very anodyne was past a certain age full of very obvious references to the "Good War" as "Band of Brothers" author, Stephen Ambrose described it. Around about the age of eight you'd find yourself watching the very avuncular Richard Green as Robin Hood, leading his men in a fight against Norman tyranny and when the novelty of that palled as it definitely did, Richard Green coming across as more of a Scout troop leader than a resistance fighter, you could always watch Roger Moore as Ivanhoe again fighting the same Norman army of occupation that had turned decidedly vindictive now that nice blonde King Richard who seemed such a thoroughly decent chap that he must be a Brit anyway, was away at the crusades and nasty brother John, black of beard and blacker of heart was in charge. And when the novelty of that palled suddenly there was Conrad Phillips as, blow me down, Swiss Resistance Leader William Tell with his deadly crossbow coming on like an amphetamined version of dear old Robin Hood, all moody close ups, beetling brows and literally in Phillip's case, bone breaking stunts as he took on the forces of occupation. And with William Tell, the comparisons couldn't have been more obvious as the occupying forces were the beastly Austrians complete with black eagle motifs on their surcoats and the closest thing to Hermann Goering, the aptly corpulent Gessler as portrayed by wibbly, wobbly Willoughby Goddard leading them to one disaster after another in his attempts to write finis to Tell's career.
I only had to turn my attention from the TV set in the direction of the serried ranks of paperback books that my old man used to immerse himself in to see lurid covers of World War 2 fighter planes blazing away at each other, camps on blood island, men in black sporting all sorts of Nazi insignia as they attempted to illicit information from scantily dressed females under the glare of their tungsten powered spotlights, when he wasn't reading those the air would be filled with the aromas of Airfix cement and Humbrol enamel as he carefully constructed a 1/72nd Supermarine Spitfire and if you're thinking my lot were a bit weird, you only had to spend a few minutes in your school playground to be amidst a series of deranged boys who assailed you with "daga, daga, daga neeeooooowwwwwwww daga, daga, daga .... you're dead!" to realize that the whole of the UK was assailed by World War 2 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Anyway to cut to the chase, U.K. comic publishers, canny folk that they are, were evidently hip to the need to provide some form of comic counseling for those thus afflicted and this they did with considerable brio. In September 1958 Amalgamated Press (later Fleetway) launched the first two issues of War Picture Library and created a comics revolution in the process. The success of these comics was phenomenal and they continued in one form or another for much of the next thirty years and even now their one time rival Commando comics are still being published.
Key to the success of comics in those days was the impact the cover would make and here War Picture Library consolidated the strength of their product by employing some of the best European artists they could access. Pre-eminent amongst these artists in those heady early years was an Italian artist by name of Giorgio De Gaspari who created the majority of the covers for the first two years of the title's run. His artwork was simply stunning, it was one of those rare moments when an artist receives a brief that he was born to fulfill and while De Gaspari's earlier work had been seriously good the paintings that he created for AP/ Fleetway totally eclipsed his previous output (well OK, those that I have seen), these were scenes that you could totally immerse yourself in well before you felt impelled to start reading the contents of the comic.
For years ... and years comic enthusiasts used to attempt to unearth the originals of these incredible covers, but with a series of warehouse moves behind them, not even the powers that be at Fleetway semed to know where or even if , they were. It wasn't until three years ago that comic artist and historian extraordinaire David Roach, on the research trail for an entirely different project in a manner almost akin to Professor Howard Carter stumbling over the tomb of Tutankhamon discovered the warehouse where the paintings were stored.
Most of the paintings unearthed have now appeared in a couple of books published by Carlton, but here's some more none of which have thus far been republished. Note the cover for "Combined Operation" where the original printed version had a truly stunning background sky, which obviously wasn't destined to survive as it was evidently removed and a truly crap version painted in it's stead for a subsequent reprint. The editorial powers at Fleetway certainly couldn't be accused of being precious about their art inventory.
Preview: BELLA AT THE BAR Vol.1
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