My first article regarding the work of Ron Smith acted as a introduction, to remind us how great this veteran artist, now retired, has been over the course of his career.
This next pair of articles will focus on one aspect of Ron’s work: the art that he created for The Hotspur. This was a weekly anthology comic first published by DC Thomson in 1933 as a text story paper, generally referred to among comics archivists as The Hotspur Mark I.
The stories were a mixed bag of sport, adventure, war, historical, westerns and comedy and the title survived in that form until 1959, when it was relaunched as a picture paper – referred to as The Hotspur Mark II. It lasted until 1980 when it was merged with the Victor, a period that also encompasses Ron’s time as a staff artist and some of his later career as a freelance artist.
While I have found quite a few that I recalled reading as one of the core audience in the 1970s, I never realised how much work Ron had done for Hotspur before I became aware of his talents.
So without further ado, let’s present an example of each story, a short synopsis and the issue run so that if this article interests you beyond being aware of each story, you can direct your searches for issues of the comics that include the stories that interest you.
“The Man With The Hammer” appeared in Issue 75 – 84, cover dated 25th March to 27th May 1961. A text story of how Arthur Broderick was a pre-war sportsman who found his hammer throwing did not need to stop while he fought the Nazis.
“The Front Line Kid” ran in Issues 85 – 96, cover dated 3rd June to 19th August 1961. Text story of how the war went for 10 year old Bobby Steele as he lived in the coastal town of Beachgate that was one of the closest towns to enemy held France in 1940.
“The Trail Of The Ten Rockets”, Issues 86 – 101, cover dated 10th June to 23rd September 1961. Ten rockets have been fired at Australia by a mad Muscovanian scientist and each rocket had the capability of destroying the entire continent. So a secret Army team, aided by drover Dinkum Daly, set out to find the ten rockets and defuse them before they explode and wipe Australia off the map.
“The Fighting Barber of Six Trails“, Issues 86-99, cover dated 10th June to 9th September 1961. Wild Bill Hickock comes to Six Trails and is killed in the saloon as he sits in on a card game. Six months later, a barber called Pete Lusher sets up shop in Six Trails seeking to stop the brains behind the local criminal gang who calls himself the Boss.
“The Air Fights of Flyer Hart”, Issues 120-129, cover dated 3rd February to 7th April 1962. Flyer Hart was a Flight Commander of 777 Squadron during the Africa campaign. Equipped with Typhoons, the squadron took on many varied ground targets and were so successful that Hart was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and posted to 900 Squadron.
“Bugle Boy“, Issues 155-165, cover dated 5th October to 15th December 1962. The adventures of Bugler Dunn during the Boer War in 1899 to 1900 while he served with the 5th Fusiliers in Natal.
“Hercules The Strong”, Issues 166-172, 174-181, cover dated 22 December 1962 to 2nd February 1963, 16th February to 6th April 1963. The story of the legendary strongman Hercules of Thebes who was thought to be a child of the Gods.
“The Battle For Breed’s Hill” , Issue 209, cover dated 19th October 1963. A cover story of how drummer boy Tommy Tate inspired the British troops during the fierce fighting for Bunker Hill to not give in. Ron also illustrated the covers for Issues 341, 439, 452, 453, 454, 455, 457, 463, 472 and 514.
“Nick Silver“, Issues 251-256, cover dated 8th August to 19th September 1964. A comedy story of Britain’s first all metal schoolboy at Morton College, a boarding school.
“The Boyhood of Wild Bill Hickock“, Issues 295-303, cover dated 12th June to 7th August 1965 (Reprinted 760-768 11th May to 6th July 1974). A western about how young Bill Hickock sought justice for the murder of his father.
“The War In Italy“, Issues 351-356, cover dated 2nd July to 13th August 1966. The story of the World War Two Italy campaign told from the perspective of one soldier who ends up at many of the turning points of that campaign.
This story goes from the landings in September 1943 up to the taking of Monte Cassino. The use of a single point of view was a narrative device that was used quite often by D C Thomson’s script-writers, as another soldier would take you through World War One in The Victor.
“The Boy With The Wooden Collar“, Issues 431-438, cover dated 20th January to 9th March 1968 (Reprinted 830-837 13th September to 1st November 1975). Tommy Perfitt is separated from his father’s trading caravan when they are ambushed and Tommy is left for dead. He is eventually found by a rival Mongol tribe and is made a slave to the chief’s son Kopet.
“The Front Line Firemen“, Issues 446-453, cover dated 4th May to 22nd June 1968 was the story of the National Fire Service and the sterling work they did during World War Two, saving much of the country from burning to the ground. Strangely, Ron only illustrated the episodes that were in Issues 446 to 449.
“The Outlaw Olympics“, Issues 468-477 cover dated 5th October to 7th December 1968. In the ancient city of Rumras, Mexico, where a sporting tribe of champions had been nurtured found their superiority was under assault. The Rumrans decided to kidnap modern athletes attending the Mexico City Olympics so that their champions could test themselves against the best of the rest of the world.
This takes us to the last main serial that Ron did for The Hotspur during the first half of its’ pictorial run from 1959 until 1969. The next article will cover the second half of The Hotspur’s pictorial run from 1970 until 1980.
All images © DC Thomson