Black Sails and Dark Tales: the Return of Heros the Spartan

Heros the Spartan regular cover

Remember how Google Scholar used to have “resting on the shoulder’s of giants” as their strapline? By pure accident, I’m sitting on the same bench with them! I’m in a published book – Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan, out now – with John Byrne, Dave Gibbons, Walt Simonson, Ken Steacy, John Watkiss, designed by Peter Richardson! Published by Geoff West at Book Palace Books. How did that happen?

Heros the Spartan Endpapers

In July 2011, Peter told me he was working on a new magazine called Illustrators.

“We are going to be focusing on UK and European illustrators of the last century along with some contemporary ones,” he told me, “with access to a lot of amazing original artwork – so all in all it’s very exciting but a  lot of work!” He asked me about my interest in Raymond Sheppard, and that led to an article in Issue 2 which went very well.

In early 2012, Book Palace had almost completed its Denis McLoughlin book, and by then Peter has persuaded me that an introduction to the latest Bellamy reprint from Geoff West’s brigade – Heros the Spartan – would be a great thing.

Heros the Spartan is, probably, the most eagerly anticipated reprint of any classic British comic strip. This new collection gives you all the Frank Bellamy Heros stories in one giant deluxe volume. The strip first featured in Eagle in 1962 after Bellamy was asked to draw a new Roman epic strip for the title, written by Tom Tully. Bellamy had previously honed his artistic skills on Robin Hood and King Arthur in the Swift (both also available from Book Palace Books) and The Happy Warrior, the Story of Winston Churchill, Montgomery of Alamein, Marco Polo and Fraser of Africa, also in the Eagle.

At the pinnacle of his artistic skills, this new commission gave him a unique opportunity. The new strip Heros the Spartan was being presented on the centre double page spread of the Eagle. This enormous canvas gave Bellamy a format few comic strip artists ever achieve or even dream of. The double page format enabled him to create the greatest comic strip adventure ever presented to the British public in a weekly at that time and he excelled himself, with revolutionary page and panel design and dramatic ink line work all in glorious colou.

Book Palace argue his ink lines and colour work on this strip have yet to be equalled by any other artist on any strip. Universally regarded as the greatest British comic strip ever produced, the art has never before been reprinted since its initial publication in 1962, although several publishers, including Titan Books, have tried.

I sent my finished draft article on Heros the Spartan on, of all days, 1st April 2012. In a subsequent email I stated to Peter “My wife said it used quotations very well and she was actually gripped by it… and she is usually just supportive!”. Geoff and Peter came back enthusiastic… and together with my wife that made three people who liked it. It looked like I was doing something right…

Heros the Sparatn - Promo Pages

A great Heros spread by Frank Bellamy.

“The way you have sourced the information and constructed the piece sheds a lot of light on Bellamy’s involvement with Heros,” Peter enthused, “and greatly helps the reader contextualise this fabulous strip in terms of both the Eagle as well as Bellamy’s own career.”

Then Peter surprised me by naming my piece  “Black Sails and Dark Tales: an introduction to Frank Bellamy’s graphic novel masterpiece” which I think is inspired.

boyd-heros-the-spartan-f1 boyd-heros-the-spartan-f2

Shortly afterwards, Geoff and Peter got permission to include the famous interview that Dez Skinn and Dave Gibbons ran with Frank Bellamy only three years before his early death. It is not the only interview with this accomplished artist, whose credits not only include Heros but Fraser of Africa, Doctor Who and Thunderbirds (for a variety of different publications) but it is certainly the most comprehensive and interesting. And Peter has added all sorts of art in full colour that wasn’t present in the original interview and some of which I have never seen before. Peter was worried that I had used lots of quotes from it already, but actually I agree with his assessment that my piece actually says something different.

Heros the Spartan Spread: Frank Bellamy InterviewBut enough about my part in this venture – what’s in the book that I’ve been raving about for months over on the Frank Bellamy checklist? Firstly, there are two versions: a £265, leather-bound numbered edition limited to 120 copies with embossed slipcase. It comes with an additional 24 pages of meticulously scanned reproductions of original Bellamy Heros artwork never before seen in public. There’s also the 272-page ‘regular’ edition, limited to just 600 copies and costing £95.

The book includes forewords by artists John Byrne, Dave Gibbons, Walt Simonson, Ken Steacy and John Watkiss; “Black Sails and Dark Tales: an introduction to Frank Bellamy’s graphic novel masterpiece” by myself; and “Lighting the Darkness: an insight into the life and work of Frank Bellamy.”

The strips are all by Bellamy: “Island of Darkness”, “Eagle of the Fifth”, “Axe of Arguth”, “Slave Army” and “Cormog and the Wolfman”. (Three stories by Luis Bermejo completing the original Heros saga are not in this volume).

High quality scans have been used throughout the book that are hard to show here in jpeg format, but are beautiful to see.

You’ll obviously think me biased given my involvement in this project, but isn’t it time we nominated the team at Book Palace for an award for services to ‘comickind’? Let me know how and I am happy to provide a testimonial. But let me say a big thanks to Geoff, Peter and all at Book Palace Books.

Now, what’s next?

Book Palace Links

Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan The Complete Adventures (Deluxe Limited Edition)

Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan The Complete Adventures (Leatherbound Slipcased Edition)

Categories: British Comics, British Comics - Collections, British Comics - Current British Publishers, Featured News

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