British Comics Flashback: “The Phantom Footballer of Amiens” by “Charley’s War” artist Joe Colquhoun

Joe Colquhoun's cover art highlighting the text story "The Phantom Footballer of Amiens" for Lion, cover dated 4th December 1965

Joe Colquhoun’s cover art highlighting the text story “The Phantom Footballer of Amiens” for Lion, cover dated 4th December 1965

Joe Colquhoun, co-creator of the seminal World War One comic strip “Charley’s War” with Pat Mills for Battle, had a long and accomplished career as an artist, providing not only strip work to many British boys comics but covers and internal illustrations, too.

Editor and author Barrie Tomlinson recently came across this wonderful art by Joe, asking if anyone knew where it had appeared – and downthetubes readers were quick to help out.

Published on the cover of Lion (cover dated 4th December 1965), Joe provided not only the cover but an additional illustration for a two-page text story, “The Phantom Footballer of Amiens“, combining two staples of classic British boys comics – war and football. The writer is unknown.

"The Phantom Footballer of Amiens" text story art by Joe Colquhoun

“The Phantom Footballer of Amiens” text story art by Joe Colquhoun

The story sees the East Surrey Regiment spurred into action against the Germans on the Western Front in October 1918 by a mysterious footballer, also seen by German troops, in an action the story describes as the Battle of Amiens (which actually took place in August 1918).

“The extraordinary figure ap­peared completely unaware of the flying bullets and exploding shells which, al­though he was in a dangerously exposed position, never touched him,” the story relates, revealing that those who saw the ghost later identified him as a man called Weldon – who had died some three years previously.

Whether there’s any truth to this World War One ghost story (and there are plenty of such stories), the real East Surrey Regiment contributed greatly to World War One, at great cost. The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment web site note 18 battalions were formed, 6000 men were lost and seven Victoria Crosses (VCs) won.

Their experiences were similar to The Queen’s; initially, the old Regular Army deployed, followed by the Reservists and Territorials. The ranks were later filled, again, by the “New Army” of Volunteers and then finally, nearer the end of the War, by the Conscripts.

Only the the Regiment’s 1st, 8th, 9th, 12th Battalions were still on the Western Front in October 1917.

Lion 713 - Cover dated 4th December 1965

Lion 713 – Cover dated 4th December 1965

By the mid 1960s, Lion had settled into being one of the most popular British weekly titles of the time, featuring a number of anti-hero characters such as The Spider alongside the more traditional fare this text story reflects. Mixing adventure and humour, this typical 40-page issue included “Robot Archie in the Menace of the Golden Men”, “Mowser” (one of my favourite gag strips growing up – look, it’s got a scraggy cat in it, what’s not to love?), the stunning “The Return of the Spider”, “Paddy Payne and Unlucky Squadron 13”, “Maroc the Mighty”, “One Man Went to War”, “Vic Gunn in the Battle for Britain” (think 2000AD’s “Invasion” but with less hard-hitting savagery!), “Sinister Island”, “Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan”, “The Garden of Fear” (think Land of the Giants set in Britain), “Captain Condor” (sadly looking decidedly dated in comparison to other strips), “Sir Munchkin – Have Lance, Will Travel”, “The Adventures of Mr X”, rounding off on the back page with the humour strip “What did You do in the War, Dad?”

Intriguingly, the final published cover shies from the stark black and red colour of Joe’s original art. Perhaps, when the cover was published back in 1965, Lion‘s editor was concerned at the use of red on a war cover, especially just one month after Remembrance Sunday?

Or was the colourist simply not a Manchester United or Arsenal fan?

(Intriguingly, Barrie tells us he can see that the footballer in the cover art was stuck onto it separately, so you do have wonder if the editorial department combined an image from one of Joe’s football strips with this World War One piece… possibly meaning this cover and the other associated illustration might not be the art’s only usage at Fleetway).

My thanks to Barrie Tomlinson for sharing the art that prompted this item and Phillip Rushton for identifying the comic it appeared in. Do check out Barrie’s now book, Comic Book Hero, which includes some Lion memories!

If anyone can find a contemporary World War One account of this ghost story, do let us know!

Find out more about Charley’s War on this downthetubes micro site

Find out more about the work of artist Joe Colquhoun here | Stripography

Read the only known interview Joe Colquhoun did a comics fanzine here

The War Diaries, 1914-1918 of The Queen’s Royal West Surrey and The East Surrey Regiment

How comics used to be coloured – detailed here on the superb Ben Day Dots web site

Lion © TimeUK “Charley’s War” and Battle © Rebellion Publishing Ltd

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