Monday 15 March 2010

Into Battle! - Embleton's Look and Learn Masterpieces

Following on from yesterday's posting of Embleton's "Wulf the Briton" epic, it's worth taking a look at one of the most dynamic series of paintings he was commissioned to create.

Look and Learn was as was briefly touched upon last week, the brainchild of visionary editor Leonard Matthews. Matthews knew what he wanted in terms of quality artwork and scripts and with the best part of twenty years editing experience behind him knew how to source the material for the new weekly which would combine comics and text with truly dynamic artwork to engage with all but the most reluctant of readers.

At the time that Ron Embleton was approached by Matthews, he was coming to the end of an epic centre spread comic strip entitled "Wrath of the God's" and although the artwork he produced for Michael Moorcock's script was truly astounding he was nevertheless chary about committing to a sequel. The work that Look and Learn afforded him meant that he could safely relinquish any further input on "Wrath of the Gods' and hand over the artwork duties to John M. Burns.

Embleton then proceeded to produce some of his finest work for Matthews, ranging from black and white spot illustrations and vignettes to single and double page comic strips all with a primarily historical content but it was perhaps a series on the English Civil War and the subsequent series of "Into Battle" both undertaken in late 1962 early 1963 that saw his best work for this publication.

Working in a really loose manner he drew straight onto the art boards with pencil and then in some cases red and blue biros, before applying washes of ink and then working up areas of sharper detail and contrast with light body paint. Some of the methods he used are most apparent when you look at his monochrome work. The passing years have discoloured the original boards to a light bisque hue and it's very easy to observe where he has added lighter areas of gouache which appear as a steely grey.

These paintings are to my mind the finest works that this great artist created and in terms of atmosphere, historical conviction and sheer in your face dynamism they have never been bettered.

More of Embleton's fabulous work is featured on the excellent Look and Learn website and most of these paintings are available as quality prints from Bridgeman Art on Demand.


  1. Breathtaking work. Those last two in particular.

  2. Yes, Dave certainly is amazing work. I've been lucky enough to see all these artworks at close hand and you can just feel the energy pulsing through the boards as you hold them. They have all the vitality of an artist who's so on top of his game that he can just create great art without spending forever in the process.

    The clouds in the last artwork are a case in point, just very wet board with sable brush dipped in ink playing over the surface to achieve those spidery edges.

  3. I'm in complete agreement about the fantastic battle scenes Ron produced for Look & Learn - especially as I'm lucky enough to own a spectacular example of his double-page paintings featuring a crusader army which is hanging above me as I write this.

    On the subject of his wonderful 'Wrath of the Gods' (one of my all-time favourite strips!) however, I think that Mike Moorcock has since denied any involvement with the initial Embleton run, in spite of the fact that Ron himself once named him as the writer in an interview. In fact the scripts were actually credited to Sydney Jordan's long-time collaborator Willie Patterson in an early issue of Boys' World. (Incidentally, does anyone else remember Odham's TV advert for the first edition of that comic with its live-action image of an ancient greek warship - presumably culled from some old film? I'd love to know if it still exists in some obscure archive! )

    - Phil Rushton

  4. Hi Phil, really fascinating piece of information re. Willie Patterson and many thanks for making contact.

    I only vaguely remember the TV ad for Boy's World, but I definitely remember the TV ad for TV Express when they started running Embleton's Colonel Pinto stories (which I may well run on this blog at some point in the future) but "Wrath of the Gods" is a must as I know a lot of visitors here haven't seen it. Real bind to scan tho...

  5. I vaguely remember Wrath of the Gods and would love to see it again. At the time (about 7 years old) I registered it as weird, dark and compelling stuff, and only many years later appreciated the tone of the strip as being probably the most authentically Ancient Greek fiction ever. But unlike my TV21s, which I religiously stored away in the Ark of the Covenant (aka a big cardboard box under my bed) I sadly never thought to keep those Boy's World issues.

  6. 'Wrath of the Gods' certainly deserves a wider audience, in spite of the difficulties inherent in reproducing its 'widescreen' format (something that has probably prevented strips like this and Frank Bellamy's 'Heros the Spartan' being reprinted before now). I'd also include John Burns' subsequent episodes in that as, to my mind, his artwork became became increasingly sophisticated towards the end after a slightly cramped debut when the strip was temporarily banished to the back page by Frank Langford's 'Brett Million' (so sophisticated, in fact, that Dan Adkins swiped whole pages for Marvel's Dr Strange! ). Unfortunately there may be some copyright problems with the concluding installments which appeared after Boys' World merged with Eagle.

    Incidentally you may be interested to know that the artwork for the final page of the series is currently hanging on my bedroom wall where all Arion's mythical adversaries dramatically reappear to salute him before Zeus himself declares that the Wrath of the Gods is over at last.

    - Phil Rushton

  7. Bloody Hell Phil - take a photo now!

    And then e-mail it to yours truly and then I'll put it up on the blog.

    Seriously though I do intend to feature Ron's Wrath of the Gods, after we have concluded Wulf.

    I think the copyright problems that now seem attendant on virtually any strip that appeared in The Eagle are a real tragedy for all concerned as well as bringing the current copyright holders themselves into disrepute. I'm just hoping that Alastair Crompton's The Man Who Drew Tomorrow isn't going to be hobbled or entirely nuked by unreasonable demands made in this respect, but from what I've heard already things don't sound too hopeful with entirely unrealistic and upfront demands being made for use of Hampson's artwork in a book which by definition is only going to appeal to a niche market. Further irony when you consider how badly Hampson himself was diddled out of his copyright to the character that he had created by the agencies of corporate greed.

    Fascinating aside about Dan Adkins, who did indeed carry the art of swiping to the extreme, plundering "Wrath of the Gods" for his Dr. Strange work.