Thursday 21 June 2012

Tyger, Tyger...

Once upon a time in a distant age Britain had an empire, generations of schoolchildren were educated in classes where maps of Britain and it's dominions were highlighted in red, with pink indicating recent or not so recently independent countries which still resided within the Commonwealth and should the shit hit the fan, could always be relied on to send troops to bolster the ranks of good old Tommy Atkins.

In those long gone and dimly remembered times the people of dear old Blighty had their news and entertainment delivered to them by people wearing dinner jackets and sounding like variations on a voice of John Mills. In other words, expensively educated and talking with a flat E. En fect everybedy telked with a flet E in thess deys, even people weth (shudder) regionel eccents telked weth flet Es.

Es ey teype thes ... sorry As I type this I am thinking back to my own childhood, growing up in a post war Britain, where the maps with the red and pink still hung yellowing on school walls, the illusion of dominion still stubbornly persisting, even though aside from the fact that the country was virtually bust there were the winds of change starting to erode the red bits on those now brittle maps.

So books that harkened back to the days of Empire didn't seem THAT bizarre and a lot of one's childhood reading was informed by what would now appear as patrician and somewhat condescending texts about men in pith helmets attended by friendly natives. Men in pith helmets usually equipped with maps and hunting rifles, friendly natives weighed down with white man's gear - masses of it - and also weighed down by their own superstitions, which only the man in the pith helmet could allay via the benefit of a sound mind, a decent public school education and his trusty fire stick, should push come to shove.

I was vividly reminded of these now wildly anachronistic texts, when working on one of the features destined for inclusion in issue 2 of Illustrators. Norman Boyd has written a superb piece on the life and work of Raymond Sheppard who died tragically young but worked with a determination and drive that offset his cruelly truncated career with a truly impressive back catalogue of artwork and illustrations, such that even if we had had a whole book to fill, we would have been hard put to it to decide what to leave out and what to include.

One of the commissions that he undertook saw the commencement of a long and fruitful collaboration with the retired hunter Jim Corbett. Corbett in many ways fulfilled the man in the pith helmet ideal, born in 1875, the son of a Postmaster stationed in Northern India. As a boy Corbett grew up with a deep love and affection for the flora and fauna of a part of the world where the jungles and ravines of North India abut the snow peaked Himalayas. If paradise could ever be said to exist on earth it was probably located in Corbett's back yard.

Despite his love and respect for the wildlife of the region, he was also prone to the follies of the time when it came to his dealings with what was then termed "game" and "big game". In both instances "game" refers to animals viewed through a telescopic rifle sight, the only difference being that the addition of the word "big" imbues the quarry with the ability to effectively take lethal action against it's tormentor should it get the opportunity.

Corbett soon came to regret his profligate destruction of some of the region's finest beasts and instead confined his culling activities to hunting down the deadly man-eating tigers and leopards that so blighted the lives of his neighbours. The first Corbett book upon which Raymond Sheppard  brought his considerable talents to bear was Man-Eaters of Kumaon, which was published with Sheppard's stellar artwork in 1952.

Here then are 12  good reasons why this book is such a masterpiece , add in Corbett's storytelling and despite the time warp, you have a book that is as compelling a page turner as it was when I first encountered it some fifty years ago.


  1. What an exciting place the far-flung corners of the world must have seemed in the imagination of any child lucky enough to be presented with these images. And what a great post too, Peter, in looking back at what made that era so enduringly alluring without shying away from the less salubrious aspects that allowed such privilege to flourish. (Not that our own era should get too self-congratulatory in that regard.)

  2. Great to hear from you Dave and if you haven't already bagged a copy of The Man-Eaters of Kumaon, I would definitely recommend you do, along with The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag and The Temple Tiger, all three with illustrations by Sheppard and Corbett's compelling text to get you eagerly devouring each page.

  3. Thanks for the compliment Peter. I'm so happy to see Sheppard's work see the light of day again and I'm really looking forward to seeing the end result.

  4. Reminds me more than a little of John Bolton's early b/w work , particularly the image of the hunter on the ground bagging the tiger.


    1. good observation ade..same sinewy muscle lines..

  5. Heh! Even when I was very young I remember having vague misgivings that, just maybe, Great Britain wasn't quite as 'Great' as it used to be - so I was grateful for the reassurance provided by 'lucky bags' which contained neat little toys bearing the legend 'Empire made'. I reasoned that as long as there was still some lone outpost in the Far East capable of crafting these plastic rocketships for the children of the Empire then the glory days couldn't be over just yet.

    Though I've never come across Corbett's books before I've long been a huge fan of Raymond Sheppard, so I'm hugely grateful to you for showing those wonderful illustrations. While he never drew any comic strips as far as I'm aware, I've always been struck by the number of magazines and annuals that carried Sheppard's work alongside that of a young Frank Bellamy during the 1950s - often depicting the same subjects with a similar eye for detail and dramatic flair. One can only wonder what heights he might have gone on to if his life hadn't been so tragically curtailed.

  6. Actually he did produce a very few comics Phil, including an adaption of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty for Girl.

    I can't recommend the Corbett books highly enough - they really are a gripping read.

  7. I am so thrilled to find these illustrations. I had spent so much of time wondering even in my childhood over the artwork in Corbett's books. Only illustrations like these can accompany Corbett's spellbinding narrations. The brazen unwavering eyes of the tiger, a sprawled Corbett aiming at a tiger, Corbett shooting an airborne tigress from a distance of few feet... I can go on and on about it. Sadly, the new editions of the books have illustrations of such a inferior quality, that after having seen
    those by Raymond Sheppard, I feel like telling the publishers not to include any illustrations at all.
    Anyway, million thanks for posting these immortals images. God bless you all.

    1. A real pleasure Dyler and many thanks for your kind words.