Review by Norman Boyd
Authors: Various; David Ashford (introduction)
Artists: Philip Mendoza, Reg Bunn, Robert Forrest, John Millar Watt
Publisher: Book Palace Books, November 2020
Number of pages: 272
Format: Flexi Cover; Black & White illustrations
Size: 6″ x 8″ (165mm x 215mm)
The Book: Four complete stories featuring the exhilarating piratical art of Philip Mendoza, Reg Bunn, Robert Forrest and John Millar Watt. Originally published in Thriller Picture Library issues 66, 105, 108 and 145, these four tales are rendered by four very different artists.
The Review: It was sad news to hear that David Ashford passed away this year, as his knowledge and love of mid-20th century UK comics was unparalleled.
His introduction to this collection of four pirate stories gives us four biographies of some great artists: Philip Mendoza, Reg Bunn, Robert Forrest and John Millar Watt. If you know anything about nursery comics and Look and Learn, you’ll recognise two of the names.
The four stories start with an adaptation of “Rogue’s Moon” by Robert W. Chambers – a story of Blackbeard the pirate. The story opens in the Lost Ship Tavern in Carolina “a notorious rendezvous for pirates” and we meet the protagonist “Freckles” who is actually a girl acting as a ‘tap-boy’ in the tavern.
We soon learn “Freckles” is helping the authorities in life-threatening situations. Alliances and attachments are precarious in this rough world where we meet Captain Death, we see duels fought over love, Mary Read a legendary female pirate, betrayals by tavern owners and also those in higher positions where the Governor and Blackbeard appear to be friends. But all is not what it seems.
An exciting yarn of the late 1600s with the obligatory happy ending, I wonder whether any girls will have picked this up at the time, as it’s really a story of a girl’s search for revenge.
The next tale is of Captain William Kidd, who I knew was executed at Execution Dock in 1701 in a particularly horrible way as I’d frequented the Captain Kidd pub many years ago and learned the story there. But this tale is of when he sailed the Spanish Main.
The story tells of his honorable battle, freeing Tortuga, the once British island in the Caribbean, from the evil Wolf-Fang Fetterchain! He saves Mary Castleton from a forced marriage to the evil pirate and returns the island to the British.
The artwork by Reg Bunn, originally published in 1955, shows some of the trademarks of his later art for “The Spider”, now being republished by Rebellion.
The third story is another adaptation, and this time we know by whom: Barry Ford. His adaptation of “The Sea Hawk“, written by Rafael Sabatini, is an exciting story of an honest man, betrayed by his step-brother and taken into slavery on a Spanish ship.
After an attack by Moorish galleys, Oliver Tressilian proves his allegiance to the Moors by fighting on their side and soon rises up the ranks so much so that his terms of never attacking an English ship are agreed by his new boss the Basha Asad ed-Din who appoints him Commander-in-Chief. The story returns to England eventually where justice is done.
Lastly, there’s “The Fortunes of Captain Blood” adapted again by Barry Ford from another Sabatini novel, a story which begins by telling of honour between enemies and how Blood helps Don Illario to recover from a wound. The story soon moves on and follows Blood’s secret machinations on the mainland of San Domingo “the noblest city of New Spain”.
The adventure shows tactics, betrayal, bold courage and finally the success of Blood against the Spanish.
Millar-Watt’s artwork is superb and we owe the Book Palace staff a thank you for restoring much of this artwork.