In January’s initial downthetubes tribute to the late Ron Smith, pages of original artwork – that had earlier appeared on eBay – were presumed to have been for the artist’s own speculative adventure comic project. This confusion arose from the related paperwork, involving Ron Holland, who – rather than the renowned 2000AD illustrator – was the unlikely entrepreneur behind the embryonic proposal.
The background to this little-known occurrence is recollected by David Slinn who – some 39 years ago – played a tiny part in Ron Smith’s extraordinarily long and varied career.
Here, he takes up the tale about a title whose creators also included names as diverse as Geoff Campion, David Pugh and Brian Walker…
“The mid-1970s saw the retail market involved with silk-screen-printed T-shirts, sweatshirts and other promotional items, really take-off. Ron Holland had got in early and, by all accounts (for the most part, his own), with considerable financial success and the accompanying life-style this secured.”
He originally established a t-shirt company in 1969, but Adventure Graphics, came later, through Ron’s endeavours to develop his other aims and ambitions.
“It also provided the freedom – and, more importantly, the wherewithal – to pursue his avid interest in collecting traditional comics,” David continues, “and, when the odd chance occurred, original artwork. He was somewhat single-minded when seeking out rare or unusual items, remaining unperturbed by the distances involved in their possible purchase.
“During these extensive travels, he’d luckily come across Denis Gifford – a recognised comics’ historian; who was only too ready (as in: readies) for some of his treasured comics (probably, additional copies), amongst the floor-to-ceiling contents of his Sydenham residence, to go to a new home.
“This led, partly through Denis and the Society of Strip Illustration, but mainly the fact Ron Holland was based in Portsmouth, to his turning up on my doorstep one day, apparently seeking advice on creating a presentation dummy for a project he was keen to explore. It turned out, after placing adverts in various trade papers, he’d already commissioned some strip artwork… but, for the most part, the resulting material proved to be both disappointing and relatively costly.
“My having worked on Eagle and its companion titles, helped prompt his acceptance that different tactics would mean fewer hassles and, in the long run, the likelihood of a more successful and less expensive outcome. Obviously, the surrounding circumstances were somewhat complex, but this was how the initial approach to Ron Smith came about and, subsequently, developed into a mutually satisfactory working arrangement.”
In his guidance about the strip proposal sent to the artist in October 1979, that was also included in the eBay auction, Ron Holland had written:
I was pleased to have met you last Monday and even more delighted that you could be able to produce three pages of artwork for my new comic.
Unfortunately, I cannot put you into the full picture as to the style and market of the comic; at the moment it is only a gleam in my eye which I intend to work up to ‘dummy’ stage and then take it from there. However, I can say that I hope to produce three pre-production dummies and from that point review the ongoing possibilities of the venture, either in its current programmed state or in a revised from.
I understand that the three pages you are producing for me is treated as ‘Spec’ work and that accordingly the rate for this work will be the agreed £240-00p for the three pages. Rather than trust the post, I should like to collect the pages from yourself, when ready, approx’ 21st/25th November? I will of course pay you at the time of collection.
I think Ron that I was able to convey most of the main points to you as to the sort of adventure story that I’m trying to achieve, however, there was one main point I might have left out. That is:-
I am a strong believer in the Tarzan style of illustration, it is very seldom in this type of adventure strip do you find an excess of detailed violence, that is – if a person is shot or killed do you see any explosion of or gore. It is possible that this comic could be read by a number of younger children; not only do I not want to offend them, I do not want their parents writing to me pointing out this attention to the macabre. I would like this comic to be read by all members of the family, and to offend no-one. Therefore when the two flyers are shot by the Zero, I should think a turn of the head and a pained expression, should suffice. Where the bird ‘Gets Splat’ on the Perspex of the forward gun, I think it is safe to show the disintegration of feathers etc., after most kids have seen an insect splat’ted [sic] on the windscreen of a car. At the same time as not dwelling on blood, gore, or other nasty things – I still want to maintain a very high degree of story tension and detail that would pass the discerning eye and mind of any experienced adventurer or professional flying man. This was I gain their respect and that to me is paramount.
No pretensions, this hero is no masked crusader, nor will he be endowed with special powers – he will have the frailties and strengths of a normal human being.
Keep the frames clean and simple, I will add the lettering and balloons etc.
Initially the comic is to be produced in B&W, but who knows it could go out in full four-colour letterpress; therefore Ron please draw as you would for colour, that is with the minimum of shading lines?
I feel very excited that you should be drawing these pages and look forward to seeing them.”
Pictures from the eBay auction lot, recovered by downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf, indicate Ron Smith worked on his three-page sample strip in late 1979, invoicing Ron Holland for £240 from his Prangs Design Studios in Goldalming, Surrey in November and acknowledging the all rights buy out of the work.
“If ‘Prangs’ strikes as a somewhat quirky,” David observed, “I’d always assumed it alluded to Ron’s youthful experiences flying Spitfires and GB Animation’s premature “crash”, providing an appropriate reminder of the inherent risks in the world of comics.”
“Although, this specimen artwork wasn’t used – it did, eventually, lead to Ron’s involvement in the, if relatively short-lived, comic supplement Ron Holland finally set about producing towards the end of the following year.”
The result was The Newspaper Comic Presents SCOOPS, initially published as part of Portsmouth’s The News.
“Strangely, throughout the whole enterprise, Mr Holland had a frustrating tendency to be unnecessarily secretive. Only, at the last moment, did we first learn where the completed features were to be published – which hardly contributed to clear creative thinking or relevant editorial decisions.
“I’d functioned as art editor during the initial phases. Ron Smith – after some persuasion and an improved page-rate – agreed to take on the main sci-fi strip feature, ‘Scoops’, while other contributing artists were Geoff Campion, Sandy Calder, David Pugh and Brian Walker; I’d tackled the title-artwork for the various picture-stories, together with other minor spot illustrations.
“Its full title, for some contractual reason, was The Newspaper Comic Presents SCOOPS, a four-page section appearing for 26 weeks, between September 1982 and April 1983, in Portsmouth’s The News; with a 13-week run, in both the Basildon Evening Echo and East Hampshire Post.
“Unfortunately, while the supplement was a considerable personal achievement, I suspect the project must have drained his resources far faster than it ever brought in new contracts for the T-shirt Company.”
We’re very grateful to David Slinn for providing us with the background story of the project and enable us to present some pages from SCOOPS here on downthetubes. The pages here are the second issue, with an SF strip from Ron Smith and a masthead featuring “Scoops, The Robot for the Future”, also by Ron.
As Ron Holland notes in his Editor’s letter, the aim of the publication is to fulfil The News aims to “cater for the young generation, as well as mums and dads”.
While SCOOPS proved a short-lived publication, it’s certainly an interesting concept and, sadly, one few local newspapers, with ever shrinking budgets, would perhaps countenance today. Unfortunately, as readers are aware, comics and comic strips are no longer considered to offer the same kind of Unique Selling Point attraction they once did, with fewer and fewer originated strips in national newspapers and local comic artists and cartoonists even working for free on some local newspapers after previous paid work, hoping to maintain their profile with local businesses.
In the past, however, comics publishers have provided strips for national newspapers in return for publication of collections of created material. Marvel UK, for example, created a Real Ghostbusters strip for the Sunday Mirror, drawn by John Marshall; the Today newspaper featured a “Roy of the Rovers” strip; “Judge Dredd” ran in the Daily Star. A revival of “Garth“, drawn by Pino Rinaldi, was also a project considered by the Daily Mirror.
More recently, Titan Comics have created material for newspaper publication, such as the long-running “Wallace and Gromit” strip for The Sun.
It would be great to see more comics in newspapers once again. Perhaps partnerships between newspaper publishers and comics publishers, expanding on past alliances for the combined physical and digital publishing word of today, might be a means to reviving projects on similar lines to SCOOPS… let’s hope so!
• Do you have copies of SCOOPS? We’d love to track down more about this project!
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