Last Updated: 15th June 2020
Garth was the brainchild of strip cartoonist and writer Steve Dowling and BBC producer Gordon Boshell. Both were working on the British national newspaper the Daily Mirror and were asked to create a new strip by its editor.
The pair came up with the concept of a “strong man” strip, and the first daily strip appeared in the Mirror on Saturday 24th July 1943.
In the opening story, a small child who would become Garth is washed ashore in the Shetlands in a tiny coracle. Pulled out of the sea by an elderly couple who then adopted him, Garth grew up to be incredibly strong.
First Appearance: “Garth“
As a small child the man who would become Garth was washed ashore in the Shetlands in a tiny coracle. Pulled out of the sea by an elderly couple who then adopted him, Garth grew up to be incredibly strong.
He became a Navy Captain, but his boat was torpedoed and the shipwrecked Garth was washed up from the sea on a wooden raft, amnesiac from his experiences, coming to land on a small island. There, he is discovered by Gala, a native girl, who introduces him to her people, and who he later saves from a despotic tyrant.
In “The Seven Ages of Garth”, we discovered Garth could relive his past incarnations – effectively travelling through time and space.
In the 1970s story, “Journey into Fear”, it was revealed Garth had extra-terrestrial origins. His great-grand father, Space Exploration Commander Wolfen from the planet Saturnis, fell in love with an Earth woman and Garth was the result of their relationship.
Professor Jules Lumiere
First Appearance: Children of the Dawn
Professor Lumiere is Garth’s friend and mentor.
Garth’s true love Astra is the last of a race of ancient god-like entities dating back to ancient civilisations some 5000 years ago who had conquered the natural world and were virtually eternal – but who could not let emotions like love take hold of them, for fear of being turned to evil. A number of stories feature Astra (known to the Romans as the goddess Venus). Her nemesis is Baal, the fallen Apollo who has aligned himself with the Dark Forces of Nature.
One thing the immortals Garth encounters could not do was fall in love, because it drove them mad. Baal became evil after his mortal sweetheart had died.
As soon as we can, we’ll be adding story notes on other recurring characters, such as Jimmy Trent and Nubyl, the heroine of The Big Game and The Islands of Kaa.
Angus Allan – Writer
Writer and artist who is probably best known for his work on Look-In, particularly “The Beatles Story“, drawn by Arthur Ranson.
John Allard – Artist
Artist and former Daily Mirror strip editor John Allard, an unsung hero in the character’s success, not just in Britain, but in terms of his popularity wherever his adventures were re-published across the globe, including Australia and India.
John played such an important part in not only the early Garth artwork but in the overall development of the strip. In the years leading up to his retirement, John became the Cartoon Strips Editor at the Daily Mirror, where his influence and knowledge of newspaper cartoons helped reinvent the page.
Here, in a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to John, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success…
Martin Asbury – Artist
Martin Asbury is a British comic and storyboard artist, best known for drawing the Garth strip in the Daily Mirror from 1976 to 1997, and for his colour TV adaptations in Look-in.
Martin Baines – Colourist
Martin Baines has been colouring reprints of Garth for the Daily Mirror for a number of years since the strip returned to the paper, although unfortunately not in new stories. A professional storyboard and concept artist, he has worked extensively in the field of storyboards for advertising agencies, doing work for most of the major studios in central London, for clients such as Hitachi, AA, Visa and Nescafe.
His portfolio also includes illustrating the life story of famous footballers for Match of the Day weekly, Wallace & Gromit comic, Commando, the Beano, some great strips for later issues of DC Thomson’s short-lived Thunderbirds are Go comic, and illustrations in People’s Friend.
• Martin Baines is online at www.martin-baines.co.uk
Frank Bellamy – Artist
Frank Bellamy (21st May 1917 – 5th July 1976) is best known for his work on the Eagle, drawing “Heros the Spartan”, “Fraser of Africa” and “Dan Dare”, his dramatic “Thunderbirds” strip for TV21 and, of course, “Garth” for the Daily Mirror. His work was innovative in its graphic effects and sophisticated use of colour, and in the dynamic manner in which it broke out of the then-traditional grid system.
Norman Boyd has documented the life and work of Frank Bellamy in numerous locations
• Paul Holder hosts another Frank Bellamy site: www.frankbellamy.com
• Comic artist Alan Davis has an archive of materials rescued from Frank Bellamy’s studio on his passing here
Gordon Boshell – Co-creator
Steve Dowling – Co-creator and Artist
Stephen Philip Dowling (1904-1986) was a comic strip artist for the Daily Mirror, best known as the creator of the long running strips “Garth” and “Belinda Blue Eyes”, as well as “Tich”, “Ruggles” and “Keeping Up With the Joneses”.
• Ally Sloper #1 – Stephen Dowling Interview by Denis Gifford – published in Ally Sloper #1 in 1976 – interview by Denis Gifford (PDF)
Jim Edgar – Writer
Jim Edgar (1908 – 4th July 1998) started his writing career in radio but went on to write numerous newspaper strips including “Matt Marriott”, drawn by Tony Weare, for the London Evening News in 1955, which continued until 1977, and wrote “Wes Slade” for the Sunday Express from 1979 until it was taken over by writer-artist Harry Bishop in 1980.
He also wrote scripts for Fleetway’s war libraries in 1962-65, contributed to the Eagle and Boys’ World, and took over writing Garth from Peter O’Donnell in April 1966, writing it regularly until September 1985, and occasionally after that until 1992.
Don Freeman – Writer
Biography by Philip Harbottle
Along with the strip’s artist-creator Steve Dowling and John Allard, Don Freeman is rightly considered one of the major contributors to the legend of Garth, alongside writer Peter O’Donnell.
John Henry Gordon Freeman was born on 23rd April 1903, and had worked at the Mirror since 1918. He quickly gained a reputation as a reliable troubleshooter, first taking over the writing of “Uncle Dick’s Children’s Corner” feature in 1938 when its creator, Bertie Lamb died. Before long, he had also taken over the writing of the Mirror’s most famous strip, Jane, and also Belinda. He came to be regarded as the Mirror’s staff strips scriptwriter, filling in on all their strips whenever the original writers were indisposed. He was the ideal man to reshape Garth, when he took it over in the autumn of 1943.
The saga of Garth was to run for more than 50 years – the longest running single character newspaper adventure strip in the world. Although Steve Dowling originated him, the credit for creating Garth as we know him today lies with one writer above all others – Don Freeman. Freeman created nearly all of Garth’s basic plots; his work is the bedrock on which the saga was to be built. Freeman’s facility was remarkable, the more so when one realises that he was writing several other disparate strips for the Mirror at the same time!
Moreover, all of his stories followed on directly, one into the next, so that in a real sense, the first 21 stories of Garth, spanning ten years, were one gigantic story. A masterly mosaic that no other writer ever attempted.
Dick Hailstone – Artist
Philip Harbottle – Writer
Philip James Harbottle was born in Wallsend on Tyneside, in 1941. On learning to read he devoured the Daily Mirror’s full page of comic strips, and was immediately captivated by the adventures of Garth. He began clipping and saving the strips assiduously. Other childhood favourites were Captain Marvel, Superman and Dan Dare, and his subsequent discovery of written science fiction in the early 1950s via the novels of “Vargo Statten” imbued him with a love of science fiction. The Radio Luxembourg adventures of Dan Dare prompted him to draw his own strip versions.
Researching post-war British science fiction history led to his publishing The Multi-Man (1968) a study of the noted pulp writer John Russell Fearn, and to editing the monthly magazine Vision of Tomorrow in 1969, the same year in which he was married. He has contributed to many reference books and encyclopaedias, notably The Visual Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (1977).
In the 1980s, he returned to his first love, comic strips, to create the space hero Nick Hazard with John Lawrence as a vehicle for noted SF artist Ron Turner, together with adaptations of stories by Fearn, including The Golden Amazon (currently being serialised in Spaceship Away, coloured by Martin Baines.) This experience stood him in good stead when, in 1992, he was invited by Daily Mirror strips editor John Allard to write scripts for Garth. He sold five serial stories before the strip’s artist took over the writing. However, the lucrative assignment had enabled him to help his only daughter through University.
In 1998, following publication of The Tall Adventurer, his non-fiction study of E.C. Tubb (the prolific SF and Western writer), he took early retirement from Local Government when Tubb asked him to act as his literary agent. He is the heir and administrator of the literary estate of John Russell Fearn, and working from notes and unpublished mss left by both authors, he has posthumously collaborated on many new novels, and edited more than two dozen science fiction anthologies. His latest non-fiction book is Vultures of the Void: the Legacy(2011) a personalised history of British post-war science fiction publishing.
He now runs the Cosmos Literary Agency, specialising in SF, detective and Westerns, and his clients include many of the most prolific British and American genre writers.
Hugh McClelland – Writer
Better known as a comics artist, Australian Hugh McClelland also drew “Beelzebub Jones”, “Jimmy Gimmicks” and “Scott Lanyard”. He became the first head of the Mirror strip cartoon department in the 1940s.
Peter O’Donnell – Writer
Peter O’Donnell (11th April 1920 – 3rd May 2010) ) is best known for his other newspaper strip creation Modesty Blaise, but he also wrote a number of Garth stories, beginning with “Warriors of Krull” in 1953 through to “The Invaders”, which ended its run in April 1966.
“In 1953, I got a call from Juilian Phipps, who was Strip Cartoon Editor at the Daily Mirror,” he recalled for an article on the official Modesty Blaise web site documenting his strip work. “In those days the Mirror ran a full page of strips. One was called ‘Belinda’, a pinch from the American ‘Orphan Annie’. The writer had gone sick in the middle of a story and they asked me to keep Belinda going.
“They liked my work on ‘Belinda’ and asked me to take over another strip, ‘Garth’. I agreed and scripted ‘Garth’ as a freelance writer for the next thirteen years.
“The Garth stories are fantasy adventures about a very strong man whose best friend is a scientist, Professor Lumiere. In the stories, Garth can go back into the past or anywhere in the universe. When I took it over, Garth had two girlfriends. They did nothing for the stories, so I got rid of them. Then, a couple of years later, I thought I should give him a lady, but no ordinary lady would have been big enough for it. So I invented a goddess, Astra. She appeared in what I consider to be the best Garth story I wrote, ‘The Last Goddess’.”
Tim Quinn – Writer
Tim Quinn – writer, publisher and more – is the man behind the FAB4000 project that he created with Russ Leach, inspired by Jayne Massey and her seeing eye dog Witney who feature in the stories. Ken Dodd recently gave his support to the project, and Tim is working on the latest edition for the Merseyside charity, Liverpool Heartbeat – www.liverpoolheartbeat.com.
James Tomlinson – Writer
The son of comics editor and writer Barrie Tomlinson, with numerous newspaper strip credits to his name including “Scorer.
Ken Roscoe – Writer
Ken Roscoe worked for the Daily Mirror in the 1950s where he was assigned to the “Ruggles” comic strip, gathering interview material for writer Ian Gammidge and artist Steve Dowling to translate into strip form during a “meet the people” experiment. Steve Holland notes in his online history of Look and Learn that Roscoe had joined Fleetway as an assistant editor on Hurricane before moving onto Ranger, working under former Look and Learn editor John Sanders. He joined Look and Learn when it absorbed Ranger in 1966. He was also the editor of Speed & Power.
Roscoe was one of the later writers on the Look and Learn strip “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire”, providing most of the scripts for stories drawn by Gerry Wood. There is more information about his work on that strip here on Bear Alley. In his stories, the Trigan Empire became more of a galactic empire with many stories taking place off-planet.
Peter Tranter – Writer
In spite of the acclaimed talent that worked on the strip, until the 1990s just six official dedicated Garth books have appeared over the years; Garth – Man of Mystery, published by the Mirror in 1946, re-presenting Garth’s origin story, documented here by Lew Stringer; a flip book (with Romeo Jones on the reverse) in horizontal format in the late 1950s or early 1960s; The Daily Mirror Book of Garth (1975; a softback annual with Frank Bellamy art which had topless girls censored/bikini tops added, and also in 1976; a horizontal format, Frank Bellamy art uncensored, nipples aplenty) and two Titan Books collection in the late 1980s, Cloud of Balthus and Women of Galba.
John Dakin also reprinted some great Steve Dowling/John Allard/Frank Bellamy complete strip collections in the 1970s.
Since the end of the strip’s final original run with “The Z-File” in 1997, there have been numerous attempts to revive the character, some more widely known than others.
Artist Huw-J brought Garth back in 2008, but the Mirror only published the strip online.
John Higgins has also worked on a revival of the character.
In 2014, Ivo Milicevic, publisher of the short-lived STRIP Magazine, approached the Mirror with the aim of producing new Garth strips that would serve to both promote his anthology title. Utilising some story ideas from John Freeman, he write his own plot and commissioned Italian artist Marco Turini to draw the strip. The project fell foul of disagreement and remains another failed attempt to revive the series.
Most recently, in 2015 Ant Jones and Bill Storie began an all-new Garth story set after the final original take “The Z-File”, published with the permission of the Mirror on the strip’s official Facebook page. We ran a news story on the project here.
Spaceship Away Issue 32, published in 2014, features an article by Ant Jones and Claire Barnes on “lost” Garth adventures. Back issues are available here. Spaceship Away also published a number of Garth reprints, re-mastered by John Ridgway.
Originally compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes, the site on which this first appeared is now only available through web archive sites. In 2015, John Freeman, Ant Jones, former Garth writer Philip Harbottle and others utilised the list to create a Garth Wiki, which updated and corrected that list and includes past story outlines and more. I’ve now added that list to downthetubes here.
• Ally Sloper #1 – Stephen Dowling Interview by Denis Gifford – published in Ally Sloper #1 in 1976 – interview by Denis Gifford (PDF)
Reprints of the strip feature in the Mirror to this day, coloured by Martin Baines. Contributors down the years included Frank Bellamy while Peter O’Donnell of Modesty Blaise fame contributed some stories.
• The Return of Garth (2008)
In August 2008, after a long gestation period, adventure hero Garth returned to British newspaper The Mirror in a new adventure. Artist Huw-J talked to John Freeman about the new strip and his many plans for the character’s ongoing revival…
• Garth Reborn (2015)
In 2015 Ant Jones and Bill Storie began an all-new Garth story set after the final original take “The Z-File”, published with the permission of the Mirror on the strip’s official Facebook page. We ran a news story on the project here.
A guide to all the newspaper strips published in the Mirror, including Garth
• Garth was published in Norway: there is a checklist detailing that run here
• The All Devon Comic Collectors Club
An offshoot of the old South West CCC, the ADCCC, which closed its doors in 2016, was mainly centred on the Exeter area, searching for prime quality images for the (complete) British story booklets that is their raison d’etre.
The desire of elder members to see old newspaper strips again, linked with the poor quality of the yellowing photocopies that were doing the rounds, provided the impetus for the club to decide to track down and reprint ‘lost’ Garth strips. A search for other British titles naturally followed, including good quality prints of Romeo Brown, Paul Temple etc.
The closure of the ADCCC and the Newspaper Daily Comic Strip Library was announced in January 2016 after Paul was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Garth © 2020 REACH/ MGN Limited