Wednesday 15 September 2010

Lost in Translation - Ian Kennedy's Tybalt

It's interesting to reflect that in a weird way Dutch and Scandinavian comics have provided an outlet for UK comic artists and writer when their options over in the UK seemed circumscribed.

Take for instance the story of Don Lawrence, who in 1976 at a UK Comics Covention discovered that  his Trigan Empire work was appearing in comics all around the globe. Like Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson who had made a similar discovery when he was invited as guest of honor to the Lucca Comics Convention a year earlier, he felt flattered but also irritated that he was receiving no extra remuneration to enhance the fee he was receiving for continuing to produce The Trigan Empire.

Lawrence decided to have it out with the publisher and within half an hour found himself to all intents and purposes unemployed.

Unbelievably, within a week he received a phone call from the Dutch publisher Oberon who were wondering if he might possibly be able to provide them with a strip. That phone call led to "Storm" a strip which Lawrence would continue to work on for the rest of his life.

Or take the story of Norman Worker who was happily working in his father's furniture shop whilst dreaming of a career as a writer, when the "safe" job disappeared with the bankruptcy of the business. His cousin Peter O' Donnell who would find fame as the creator of Modesty Blaise, recommended he try his hand at writing comics and whilst the UK market was relatively tough to break into he did with O'Donnell's help get an introduction to the Swedish Publishing house Semic.

His work initially included scripts for Buffalo Bill and The Saint, but it was as writer for adaptations of Lee Falks The Phantom that he really found his niche. He wrote 127 Phantom stories along with a lot of other features for comics such as Fantomen. The cross pollination of talent continued as UK artists working for publishers such as Semic and Oberon were regarded as well as treated with a lot more favor than was the case back home. It wasn't surprising then that Ian Kennedy was high on the list of desirable artists when it came to putting visuals to some of Worker's scripts.

At this point I'll let Andreas Eriksson take up the story:

Norman Worker and Ian Kennedy produced the adventure comic "Hunter" for the Swedish comics anthology Agent X9. Seven episodes were made from 1987 to 1990. The main character Mark Hunter was a typical adventurer who got into all sorts of troubles.

The concept was retooled, as the main character was forced to change his identity to Rey Tybalt, and he took work as a pilot - presumably to let Ian Kennedy draw more airplanes. References to his Mark Hunter background were made throughout the Tybalt episodes however, so despite different titles it is essentially one comic from start to finish. The name change also meant that Tybalt moved to the comic book Fantomen instead, a book dedicated to Lee Falk's jungle hero The Phantom. (Worker was also one of the main writers of Phantom stories for Fantomen).

32 Tybalt episodes were published from 1990 to 2002, from 1998 and onwards Swedish writer Mats J├Ânsson was the scripter. The first four Tybalt episodes are in b/w, the rest in color as Fantomen turned to color printing from 1991 onwards.

And here as a taster is some pages from the last Tybalt black and white comic, it seems amazing (and ironic) that these stories have never appeared in English.

Many thanks to Andreas for providing us with these amazing scans and background information.


  1. Fascinating stuff! Everybody knows about the so-called 'British Invasion' of American comics, but we rarely hear about the amount of work that British creators have produced for other parts of the world. Only this week I was looking at a 1975 issue of Powerman - a comic starring a black, African superhero that was sold in Nigeria yet printed in Carlisle, for which Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland produced some wonderful artwork: most of it never even seen in their native land. Very odd!

    Also, though the UK's proud tradition of girls' comics came to a sad end when Bunty ceased publication some years ago few people on these shores realized that DC Thomson continued to produce a successful title called Wendy for the European market, featuring art by the likes of Barrie Mitchell, Jim Colthorpe, and the late Phil Gascoigne. As far as I'm aware it is still being published today.

    And that doesn't even begin to cover the homegrown strips like Robot Archie and Janus Stark which continued elsewhere in new stories long after their British series came to an end...

  2. I've only ever seen one spread from Powerman Phil and that was some thirty years ago in a zine whose name escapes me. The interview with Brian Bolland revealed that it was in fact his first regular strip and he alternated with Dave Gibbons on the artwork.

    Hmmmmmmm... it would be great to feature some of that artwork(?)

  3. There was a 4 issue limited series published by Acme Press/Eclipse in the late 80s (1988?) that reprinted some of Bolland's and Gibbons' work.

    I have a feeling Ron Smith did some work for the African market too.

    Here's a cover that DG did for one of the reprint editions:

    And here's a link to Bolland's website:

    I have one issue of the limited series somewhere. When I find it I'll stick something up on my blog:

  4. I forgot to say. Great Ian Kennedy art and thanks for the great blog Peter!

    Also, if anyone's interested, Google Translate will do a pretty good job of translating the Swedish into understandable English. Enough to get the gist of the story anyway.|en|

  5. Your articles are worth reading. Your blog is really great!