As it’s a Formula 1 weekend, downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf is marking the event on his Boys Adventure Comics Blog with a look back at an earlier era of motor-racing with this oddity – “The Champions” – a tie-in comic with Matchbox toys sponsorship of motor racing legend, John Surtees and Team Surtees, in the early 1970s, featuring art by “Skid Solo” artist John Vernon.
The first part of Richard’s series on this promotional comic is here.
In 1972, Team Surtees ran Mike Hailwood and Tim Schenken in F1, and also put together a highly successful Formula 2 team, sponsored by Matchbox, which gave Hailwood the title of European champion. Their TS10 car saw service in the hands of Surtees, Hailwood, Andrea de Adamich and Carlos Ruesch.
Hailwood swept to his title success with wins at Mantorp and the Salzburgring, while Surtees won at Imola and in Fuji in Japan. The TS10 is still in its Matchbox livery to this day, part of an exhibition last year hosted by the Signature Store, which offers a range of John Surtees collectibles, including limited edition fine art prints.
Matchbox also sponsored the TS15 car in 1973 and the TS16 in 1974.
“The Champions” being an advertising comic, John Vernon’s work is uncredited – but it is pretty distinctive – and someone forgot to white out his initials (JV) in the final frame of Episode One)!
An A4 sized, 14-page comic with art by John Vernon, it seems this The Champions comic might be a reprint of an entire comic strip advertising campaign from the pages of Tiger. That weekly British sports comic was home, of course, to motor racing champ Skid Solo, a strip that John drew, largely written by Fred Baker, for much of its 18-year run.
“Skid Solo” actually debuted in Hurricane, first appearing in February 1964, the strip ending in a Tiger in 1982 with a horrendous crash that put the star in a wheelchair – as Lew Stringer recounts here, to the dismay of his many fans, later informed by a suitably chastised editor, Paul Gettens, that his injuries were not permanent. (Although enough to end his motor racing career).
John Vernon (not to be confused with fine artist John Vernon Lord) was active in comics from the 1940s until the 1980s, beginning his career in advertising, working on theatre and, later, cinema advertising for Pearl & Dean. He illustrated book cover in the 1950s, for Panther Books, Hodder & Stoughton, and especially Harborough Publishing’s Ace Books line, moving into comics in the early 1960s, initially drawing strips featuring aviation hero Jeff Curtiss for Micron’s Combat Picture Library.
(Colin Noble has examples of the strip here on his Nothing But a Fan blog, but I’m not convinced they’re John’s work).
Early strips for Fleetway included “Casey the Champ” and “The Ragged Racer” for Tiger, and, of course “‘Skid Solo”, his long career drawing to a close with the no-war strips for Battle, “Truck Turpin” and “Jetblade“.
“John Vernon’s work on the long-running ‘Skid Solo’ strip was always of a high standard,” Barrie Tomlinson recallsBarrie Tomlinson recalls. “It was a terrible decision for me to eventually drop the Skid story when it went down on the readers’ ratings.”
• John Surtees, the only person to win top-level Grand Prix titles on two and four wheels, is an icon of motorsport history, and his story is charted in a DVD, Champion Surtees. His unusual career is divided into two parts – the motorcycle years and the motorsport era
Skid Solo, Tiger copyright Rebellion Publishing Limited