In Review: Comic Book Hero – Working with Britain’s Picture-Strip Legends

Comic Book Hero - Cover

By Barrie Tomlinson
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Out: Now

The Book: In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, children’s comics were a massive part of a young person’s life. This book tells the story behind the production of comics such as Tiger, Scream, Speed and many more titles, on which Barrie Tomlinson worked as editor. Read how top stars of sport and show business contributed to the success of his publications…

This guide to editing comics in the 1960s is a fascinating snapshot of how complex the production process was. These notes were provided to Barrie Tomlinson by Lion editor Bernard Smith - who lived to be 104!
This guide to editing comics in the 1960s is a fascinating snapshot of how complex the production process was. These notes were provided to Barrie Tomlinson by Lion editor Bernard Smith – who lived to be 104!

The Review: Fellow downthetubes contributor Ian Wheeler will offer his own thoughts on this follow up to Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff!, but I wanted to offer my own thoughts on this engaging new “behind the scenes” account of creating British comics at a time when they still sold in their millions – but decline was written on the wall as rival mediums, TV and gaming, began to compete for attention.

After successfully editing Tiger comic in the 1960s, Barrie became head of the Boys’ Sport and Adventure Department at IPC Magazines and launched comics such as Roy of the Rovers, the new Eagle and Scream. For 22 years he wrote and produced the Scorer football strip in the Daily Mirror – and this book charts them all, told at a breathless, with plenty of sport and celebrity name checks along the way.

Right from Page One, Barrie dives straight into recollections of his time on the many titles he worked on (glossing over Roy of the Rovers in part, which he’s already recounted, and 2000AD, a title he left well alone, recommending instead picking up Steve MacManusThe Mighty One instead). This genial 50 year veteran of the British publishing industry delivers a delightful, celebratory and nostalgia-driven account of many British comics a lot of downthetubes readers will remember with a great deal of fondness.

The most remarkable thing about these pictures is not the haircuts, or the fact that the comic SPEED got a celebrity-starred real-world launch), but the number of staff working on one comic - things have changed a lot.
The most remarkable thing about these pictures is not the haircuts, or the fact that the comic SPEED got a celebrity-starred real-world launch), but the number of staff working on one comic – things have changed a lot.

From Lion and Tiger through to Eagle, MASK and Wildcat, Barrie has, largely, memories of working on them all, both the highs and lows – although you’ll find that, apart from the bizarre management interference on Scream (a title he still feels could work today) and lightly cursing the nightmare of working with some licensing companies, he focuses more on the highs than the lows.

If you’re expecting scurrilous gossip – about fellow creators, editors and some of the many celebrities Barrie worked with, including Pele, Gordon Banks, Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe – you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re after a celebration of the many comics you may have grown up reading, then Comic Book Hero is well worth your time.

Comic Book Hero is peppered with art as well as photographs, including this early design for "Storm Force", created when "Action Force" moved from Fleetway to Marvel UK
Comic Book Hero is peppered with art as well as photographs, including this early design for “Storm Force”, created when “Action Force” moved from Fleetway to Marvel UK

There are some great nuggets about the way comics used to be published (the number of specific staff on a title leaves me in tears). There are some smashing photographs throughout the book, mainly of the stars Barrie worked with, but editorial staff,and creators such as artists Joe Colquhoun and Mike Western too, and a smashing colour section featuring many Roy of the Rovers and Tiger gems. There are some wonderful notes about some of the many characters Barrie worked on too, including the origins of “Storm Force“, created when Marvel UK snatched the “Action Force” licence away from Fleetway.

Barrie Tomlinson's talent for involving celebrities in his many publications started early. The Goons were honorary members of the "Anti-Trombone League", a title Barrie published while in National Service, which featured many cartons by "Styx", including "Sgt Whacko"
Barrie Tomlinson’s talent for involving celebrities in his many publications started early. The Goons were honorary members of the “Anti-Trombone League”, a title Barrie published while in National Service, which featured many cartons by “Styx”, including “Sgt Whacko”

Wisely, I think, Barrie decided to leave his memories of his earliest days in the business, creating the Anti-Trombone League (and earning the support of The Goons!) to later in the book, although, for me, it does sit oddly where it is in the narrative. But ever the canny editor, I’m sure Barrie knew most buyers of this book would be more interested in his memories of the comics he worked on (and the book ends with an affectionate tribute to their characters, too), rather than the man himself, which reflects the modesty I’ve noticed in all my pleasant dealings with him over the years.

Comic Book Hero is an engaging, fun read. There are few scurrilous stories; it’s more of a breathless account of what, for the most part, was clearly both a fun and challenging time for comics, as tastes changed and the medium faced stiffer competition that eventually put paid to many great titles with only 2000AD surviving today.

While the reasons for the decline are complex and not dwelt on in this book, the wonderful memories they still conjure are, happily, re-ignited after reading Comic Book Hero. I hope they are for you, too.

Read Barrie Tomlinson’s article “Comic Book Hero: Looking back on a time when celebrities courted comics, not the other way round!”

Comic Book Hero:  Working with Britain’s Picture-Strip Legends
By: Barrie Tomlinson
Price: £14.99
Out: 1st September 2017
ISBN: 9781785313240
Format: Hardback
Pages: 224

Buy it from amazon.co.uk – using this link helps support downthetubes, thank you

Read Ian Wheeler’s review of Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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