The recent sad news of the passing of Gil Page, an editorial stalwart of Amalgamated Press, Fleetway, IPC and latterly as that company’s Managing Editor, resulted in many words of tribute from those who worked with him and for him through the years.
Gil was interviewed by Ian Wheeler for the fourth issue of the Eagle Flies Again fanzine published in 2002 just after he had retired. In tribute to Gil, and with the permission of Ian Wheeler, downthetubes is pleased to reprint that interview.
EAGLE FLIES AGAIN, ISSUE 4, 2002
GIL PAGE: MAN AT THE TOP
Gil Page is a key figure in the history of comics and EAGLE. He became Managing Editor of the Children’s Comics area of IPC’s Youth Group in 1979. Three Group Editors reported to Gil – Barrie Tomlinson for Boy’s Sport and Adventure, Bob Paynter for Humour and Beverley Watts for Girls’ titles. Gil was jointly responsible, with a publisher, for the viability and editorial quality of everything published – titles ranging from EAGLE and SPEED to SCHOOL FUN and MISTY.
I began by asking Gil how he got into publishing. He was introduced to his uncle’s friend John Wheway ‘a prolific schoolgirls text story writer for Amalgamated Press. An interview was arranged directly after National Service in the RAF and I began on 4 March 1957.’
I wondered what Gil’s reaction was when Barrie Tomlinson proposed relaunching EAGLE. Gil felt excited at ‘the enormous potential of such a relaunch but was aware of ‘the very real dangers of living up to the original title’. He says that ‘Barrie was the driving force. He had been an enthusiastic reader of the original and was desperate to see it again in all its glory. As I recall, there was a great divergence at management level. Was it possible to follow the Rolls Royce of comics? In the end, the company went for it. Everyone ‘out there’ remembered EAGLE, which had merged with LION, and it seemed all the people in the media had been readers. There was tremendous interest and curiosity which initially generated fantastic sales. The new EAGLE had extra colour and better paper and printing, as well as featuring photo-strip, but predictably upset the buffs, who had been weaned on Frank Hampson’.
What did Gil think of the EAGLE photo-stories? He says that he was ‘never a great fan. They were better suited to the ‘head and shoulders close-up style’ approach taken by the teenage girls’ mugs. However, photo-stories had the fresh look necessary for the new EAGLE.’
I was keen to ask Gil about the controversial title ACTION – a comic which some felt was too violent. ‘A lot of the people behind ACTION were interested in pushing forward the comic story-telling barriers,’ Gil recalls. ‘It was a fine line – for a blue chip publishing company, I believe we went too far, too fast’.
And what about the humorous OINK? Was Gil at all concerned about the cheeky humour in that comic? ‘In fact, the relatively tame OINK was created to mirror not copy the revolutionary VIZ and it never achieved the same success. We had first refusal to publish VIZ, but editorially we knew we could never get sway wills strong language and radical themes for ‘kids’. ACTION and 2000AD had proved that.’
On the subject of 2000AD, I put it to Gil that Fleetway’s decision to sell the rights to the title were surely a case of killing the goose which laid the golden egg. In fact, ‘the golden egg had been laid a long time before and the goose was now not so well. There was potential for its characters that was seen by the software company that bought the title.’
Did Gil like the 2000AD version of Dan Dare? ‘I was not a fan. The Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli was a friend, but I didn’t think his style was best suited.’
Was Gil a fan of DC Thomson or Marvel titles? ‘I read DCT’s HOTSPUR, ROVER, ADVENTURE and WIZARD before I stated grammar school. I was a great fan of text stories and it was those titles that made me love the genre. Ironically, I was not a picture-story fan at the time. I didn’t like the American Marvel titles.’
What does Gil think about the new Dan Dare TV series? Was he involved in negotiations? ‘Yes, I had some involvement in negotiations because I was Fleetway’s point of contact. If the storylines and characters have been tweaked to make them more contemporary, the series could be a hit.’
Does Gil have any advice for anyone who would like to work in publishing? This, he says, is ‘a big question! The so-called ‘mass’ market is much more restricted these days with its blatant marketing approach and almost totally licensed domination. The job could be just as rewarding in the future, but an awful lot different!’
I asked Gil about SCREAM, one of IPC’s best but unfortunately short-lived titles. He feels that ‘SCREAM suffered from an overdose of censorship by an ultra sensitive senior management. Editorially, we had to operate with one arm behind our backs and if they’d trusted our judgement and expertise more, the title could have been so much better,’
Gil concludes that his career was ‘long, happy and rewarding and I was lucky to operate in a variety of fields within the business. Given the chance, I’d do it all over again – though the early days were the best!’
Thank you, Gil.
Gil has recently retired from his senior position at Egmont Fleetway Ltd. We wish him all the best.
With thanks to Ian Wheeler and Steve Holland