In Review: Heros the Spartan
‘Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan’. Stories by Tom Tully
Illustrated by Frank Bellamy
Edited and designed by Peter Richardson
Published by The Book Palace at £95.00
Hardback 272 pages, with 222 in full colour. Limited edition of 600 copies.
Also available in leather bound edition in slipcase, with 24 additional ‘Heros’ pages, scanned from original artwork. £265.00. Limited edition of 120 copies.
The Book: This large (270mm by 360mm) book reproduces all of Frank Bellamy’s famous Heros the Spartan adventure strip, which appeared between 1962 and 1965 in the Eagle weekly for boys. The strips are reproduced in their original size, but from the printed pages, not from original artwork, as much of this is lost or unavailable.
Nevertheless some examples of original pages have been printed separately, along with examples of other work by Bellamy, including pages from Fraser of Africa, Dan Dare, and The Travels of Marco Polo, also from Eagle. The book is prefaced with contributions from Dave Gibbons, Walter Simonson, John Byrne, Ken Steacy and John Watkiss.
Norman Boyd provides an introduction to Heros and a detailed interview with Bellamy from 1973, conducted by Dez Skinn and Dave Gibbons, originally published in Fantasy Trader is reproduced.
The Review: This is an expensive book, because it was recognisably expensive to produce and being only available from the publishers, there’s also going to be a delivery charge, taking the cost of the basic edition to over £100. Consequently any buyer has got to be a big fan of Frank Bellamy.
The admirer who is happy to part with the money receives a book that reproduces the Heros strip as well as it is possible to achieve, but although the few scans taken from original artwork are sharper and capture more subtle tones better than their reproductions in Eagle, the publishers’ claim that “coupled with current advanced scanning and reproduction techniques we are able to present Heros … at a quality of reproduction far superior to the original comic printing” is debatable. In my own copies of Eagle the reds and blues are often brighter, creating a more impressive contrast with the dark colours and shades. While the difference is negligible, which is a considerable achievement for a strip that is 50 years old, in my opinion the claim is nevertheless incorrect. Readers who have never seen Heros in Eagle itself would be amazed at the quality of reproduction achieved by the photogravure process used by Eric Bemrose for Eagle at the time.
Norman Boyd provides an accurate and detailed introduction to the strip and Dez Skinn and Dave Gibbons’ interview with Bellamy is the best one he ever gave. The prefaces by Dave and John Byrne and, to a lesser extent, John Watkiss, show an affection and knowledge of the strip, but while the others praise Bellamy’s work in general, they are quite unfamiliar with Heros, begging the question of whether five prefaces are really necessary.
I know that the book is devoted to Bellamy’s work on Heros, but I personally would have liked to see a full sized scan of one of Luis Bermejo’s pages on the strip for readers to compare with Bellamy’s. The book does reproduce a Bermejo page from the original artwork, but it is printed in a reduced size and occupies less than half a page. The caption accompanying this art makes the book’s only notable error, saying “the third, fifth and eighth stories in the series were drawn by Luis Bermejo …” whereas he also drew the seventh and consequently illustrated half of the eight stories in Eagle. (He also illustrated the Heros stories which appeared in the Eagle Annuals for 1965 and 1967).
The book presents every Heros strip drawn by Frank Bellamy, giving the reader 95 double pages of Bellamy’s artwork from Eagle weekly. It also includes his eight page strip for the 1966 Eagle Annual, which is reproduced to great effect here in a larger size than in the original annual and each story is prefaced by a brief scene setting introduction.
This is a welcome and long awaited book. It is of course a pity that it is so expensive, because admirers of more recent sword and sorcery stories deserve to see the work of this master of adventure strip art. However a cheaper book would not have taken so much trouble to reproduce the work to such impressive effect, as many previous Eagle reprints have shown.
• For more about Frank Bellamy, visit: www.frankbellamy.co.uk
• For more about Luis Bermejo, visit: www.tebeosfera.com/autores/l_bermejo.html (in Spanish) and www.comicvine.com/luis-bermejo/4040-54258/issues-cover. There’s also an archive of some of his art here on the Illustration Gallery
• Book Palace: www.bookpalacebooks.com