Mertonville, in Mort Cinder. Art by Alberto Breccia

A Comics Mystery: How did a street in Norwich become a location for Alberto Breccia’s “Mort Cinder”?

Inspired to buy Alberto Breccia’s Mort Cinder through the downthetubes articles by artist Ron Tiner and the urgings of artist David Roach, one of our readers came across an interesting little oddity in the art.

Mort Cinder, in case you needed reminding, is a simply brilliant Argentinian comic featuring an eponymous character, created in 1962 by the writer Héctor Germán Oesterheld and artist Alberto Breccia. This series is considered one of the best comic strips ever produced in Argentina, and is now available in English thanks to US publisher Fantagraphics as part of their Alberto Breccia Library series.

Michael Crouch was surprised to discover that a few pages in, the protagonist travels from Chelsea in London to somewhere called Mertonville, near St. Albans.

“On turning the page I was surprised to see a very faithful rendition of Elm Hill in Norwich,” he notes. “From the buildings, the cobbles, the kink in the street and the tree at the top, I was certain this was not a case of mistaken identity.

“Indeed, if you look closely, the letters ELM H appear on a wall on the right – although I have never seen this on the building for real.”

Mertonville, in Mort Cinder. Art by Alberto Breccia
Mertonville, in Mort Cinder. Art by Alberto Breccia

To confirm his observations, Michael took some photographs from the top end of the hill from the same point of view as Breccia’s image.

Elm Hill, Norwich. Photo: Michael Crouch
Elm Hill, Norwich. Photo: Michael Crouch

“I am not aware that Breccia ever came to Norwich but feel certain he must have seen a photograph of our city’s famous street when he was working from Argentina back in 1962,” says Michael.

Breccia did come to the UK before the creation of Mort Cinder, of course. As Ron Tiner relates in his second article about Alberto Breccia’s life, he left Argentina in 1959 to work in England for Fleetway Publications, who were publishing a wide range of digest-sized, 68-page comic books aimed at an adult readership, featuring adaptations of classic and popular literature. The currency exchange rate at that time made the fees paid for such work extremely attractive, and it is evident that he found the new format liberating.

He returned to Argentina in 1961, when his wife became seriously ill, but perhaps Breccia had time to visit Norwich during his time in Britain?

A mystery of what image reference sources Breccia (or Oesterheld) had that we’re very unlikely to solve, but the good people of Norwich may be delighted to know their city features in one of the most acclaimed Argentinian comics ever published!

Elm Hill, Norwich - LNER/LMS Poster by Claude Muncaster
Elm Hill, Norwich – LNER/LMS Poster by Claude Muncaster

Elm Hill is a distinctive part of this Norfolk city, so it’s no surprise its buildings have been the focus of art more than once.

The famous watercolour artist Claude Muncaster also chose the street as the focus for a painting that featured on posters produced for the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) to promote rail travel to the cathedral city.

Update: Following the initial posting of this item, Dan McKee commented on Twitter that the building in the left with “Elm Hill” written on it would later become the location of The Slaughtered Lamb inn in the film of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.

That shot from that angle also appears in a Monty Python sketch about Beethoven, which means that although Mort Cinder pre-dates that show by several years, it suggests the photo might be a stock image.

• Has your street or town ever appeared in a comic? Why not share your observations below (please include the full comic title, Issue number and, if possible, year of publication) – the more unexpected, the better!

Mort Cinder is available now from all good book and comic shops, including Amazon (affiliate link)

Read Ron Tiner’s study of Alberto Breccia here on downthetubes

The history of Elm Hill, saved from destruction by determined conservationists, is detailed here on the Friends of Elm Hill web site

Our thanks to Michael Crouch for this item

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

One thought on “A Comics Mystery: How did a street in Norwich become a location for Alberto Breccia’s “Mort Cinder”?

  1. Found this story while on a train to Norwich so I had my mate take me to Elm Hill so I could stand in a Breccia comic. Perfect moment enhanced by the realisation that the War Picture Library is just bought in a 2nd hand shop was one of the few by Hugo Pratt. Two of my inky heroes in one street!

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