Tuesday 22 March 2011

Eric Parker - The Early Years and More on That Weird S.A.S. Story

I am a spoiled blogger. Between the combined forces of Messrs David Slinn and Malcolm Norton, my email in-tray is deluged with an embarrassment of riches. From David's lovely scans of Ron Embleton's Children of the New Forest published in 1963 and Malcolm's cornucopia of treasures (I never quite know what to expect from Malcolm - but as with David's attachments, it's all superb).

 Anyway before getting on to more Eric Parkers (and these are I think you'll agree simply amazing) I thought I ought to add some historical context to the bizarre Gerry Embleton artworked S.A.S. strip. As David points out this was the last strip to appear in the broadsheet edition of TV Express Weekly, before it reduced size to a tabloid format. This move was doubtless precipitated by the falling revenues and the general air of insecurity that stalked the corridors of the UK's once thriving comics industry in the summer of 1961. A lot of stuff was ditched in the process - including the long running S.A.S. series. So as Phil Rushton correctly surmised the story had to be wound up in one page. Anyone having had experience as a creative knows what a bolt out of the blue this can be.

I am going to venture the following theory which David and other readers may agree or disagree with - it is a theory - nothing more, nothing less. But we can say with certainty that the script for this story had been signed off by the editorial team in advance of the artwork being undertaken. The person who most likely would have received the bolt from the blue phone call would have been the artist Gerry Embleton. This on the basis that there would probably not have been time to go through the process of getting the writer to whittle down his script and then send it on to the artist. Having heard several stories  from Gerry's then agent Pat Kelleher, about how the artist loved to sneak in various perverse little details in the backgrounds of otherwise innocuous strips he was working on (a copy of the Kama Sutra on Merlin the Magician's bookshelves for example), if Gerry was indeed tasked to edit the script down himself then all these little touches would be his way of having a bit of fun at the expense of the system.

Whatever ... just a theory.

OK - setting that aside here are some really early Eric Parker artworks which would have been created by him shortly after getting his foot through the door at the Amalgamated Press.

Aren't they amazing - just love his stuff - almost like a Brit Harvey Kurtzman, in terms of vivacity and a drawing style all his own with a very strong sense of design which suffuses his use of line, shape and tone.

S.A.S. © Express Newspapers 2011.

 Union Jack © IPC Media 2011.


  1. Fabulous gems here! And I had to smile at that line "Complete Sexton Blake story - excellent, as usual." Talk about a stiff upper lip :)

    I do see what you mean about a Brit Harvey Kurtzmann, Peter, especially with that cover of "The Secret of the Mine".

  2. I just love those covers in all their two color glory Dave.

    Another exceptional artist whose work is languishing in relative obscurity for no good reason.

  3. Funnily enough I've always thought of Parker as the British Kurtzman - at least as far as the latter's pre-MAD style for EC's war titles is concerned (personally, of course, they seem to have been very different beyond a shared interest in military history). In fact it's surprising how many US Artists have had a roughly equivalent figure on this side of the Atlantic - so much so that I've often toyed with the idea of producing something like Plutarch's 'Parallel Lives' to introduce our American cousins to some of those home-grown Fosters and Raymonds!).

    Given his long association with the character it really is a shame that Parker only ever produced one Sexton Blake comic strip - especially as his regular work in Knockout, TPL, Sun and Comet showed him to be a comic artist par excellence. As you say, like McLoughlin, Embleton, Hampson, etc., he is yet another artist who richly deserves a hefty coffee-table book devoted to his work.

    The history of Baker Street's second most famous detective is even more phenomenal, with a legacy that makes American pulp stars such as Doc Savage and the Shadow seem like mere flashes in the pan by comparison. During his many decades of publication, often appearing in several novel-length adventures every week, there can't have been many things left that he didn't do or places he didn't go: for example I recently picked up a hundred-year-old issue of Union Jack in which Blake summarily dealt with 'The Unemployed' only to discover that the following week he was due to travel to my own home territory (or at least Arnold Bennett's fictional version of it) in 'Sexton Blake and the Five Towns'!

    If only he were still around today to apply his no-nonsense solutions to our own pressing geopolitical problems...! :-/

  4. The bizarre figure of Sexton Blake, pipe in jutting jaw dealing with the unemployed is truly the stuff of dreams Phil.

    Almost as bizarre a sight as Julian McLaren Ross, man of letters and doyen of Fitzrovia, going to the employment exchange in pre war Bognor Regis dressed in fur trimmed ankle length coat and gold cane when Pater's money had eventually run dry.

    He was as you can imagine subjected to no end of ribald comments from the lumpen proleteriat assembled in the cul de sac of Merchant Street as they duifully waited in line for the doors to swing open.

    Not at all put out by any of this he became a regular fixture of Bognor Regis Employment Exchange and if officialdom was a little tardy in welcoming in the gray and hopeless masses, he would bang on the door with gold tipped cane crying out to cheers from the assembled multitude, "Open in the name of the people".

    Golden days - makes one weep too think about them.

    Think I need a little shot of Count Arthur Strong now.

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