B7 Media has revealed its next major project, both an audio series and graphic novel, leading with publication of Tony Hancock – The Lad Himself by Stephen Walsh and Keith Page, through its new B7 Comics imprint.
The 275-page graphic novel will be published in 2023, telling the story of the legendary comedian in words, pictures, and not without a few interruptions from The Lad Himself, who proves a little infuriated at how his story is told… as those who know and love his work would fully expect!
Tony Hancock somehow seems a natural subject for a comic – and, of course, he’s been in them before. At the height of his television fame, he appeared in Film Fun. Since his death, he’s been the subject of biographies, radio dramas, and even a couple of television films. With the advent of satellite TV and DVD, he seems to be everywhere.
“I’ve worked with artist Keith Page for a while now, bringing his marvellous time travelling, universe hopping heroine Charlotte Corday to the attention of a growing legion of fans, first in print but more recently, online,” says the graphic novel’s editor, John Freeman. “Keith is an unstoppable machine when it comes to drawing comics, and he never seems to stop working – or surprising me with what he’s come up with.
“When he approached me with Tony Hancock – The Lad Himself, I was instantly sure this was not only a brilliant graphic novel, I was also certain there would be a publisher out there keen to publish it… but at the time, I wasn’t sure who.
“Fortuitously, B7 Media’s Andrew Mark Sewell was just launching B7 Comics, and his many connections with those who knew Tony Hancock personally, and the added suggestion of a tie-in audio drama, helped secure a deal.”
“Tony Hancock’s legacy as a comic is still filtering down the generations, refreshing his fan base year on year as he continues to inspire writers and comedians,” says Helen Quigley, Creative Director, B7 Comics. “There are just as many 20 and 30 somethings today who appreciate his work as there were when he was still with us.
“The Lad Himself is not a comic about a comic – Hancock’s life and career is illustrated warts and all, whilst maintaining the qualities for which he was loved. To be able to tell his story in this new way is both hugely exciting and a great honour. “
Art on the graphic novel is complete, and pre-production work has already begun to publish the graphic novel next year, alongside other B7 Comics projects, including the four-issue limited SF adventure series, Pilgrim, written by John Freeman, drawn by Neil (X-Men) Edwards, based on a concept devised by Bev Doyle, Richard Kurti and Andrew Mark Sewell.
The Lad Himself
“When he appeared on radio and television in the 1950s, Hancock immediately became an archetype,” notes graphic novel writer Stephen Walsh. “And so he has remained. The writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson basically invented the sitcom form for him, teasing out the threads of his personality and creating from them a universally recognisable figure: the ever-aspiring, grumpy, petty, frustrated everyman pitted against society, bureaucracy, jobsworth vindictiveness and whatever you’re having yourself; the best and worst of all of us, down to his last shilling for the meter.
“WC Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Sid Field all came before him. Young Hancock was hugely influenced by them all, just as successive generations of comic actors (Cleese, Fry and Merton, to name a few’) have been massively influenced by Hancock. The Office, Black Books, Peepshow and all the other great British sitcoms of the present day are variations on the Hancock template.
Creating the Graphic Novel
“When Keith floated the idea of tackling Hancock in comics, an affirmative ‘ping!’ sounded so loudly in my head that I had to put down my pint for a moment,” Stephen Walsh continues. “It was a Saturday lunchtime in a pub somewhere between the King’s Road and the River. We didn’t know what form such a project might take, but we were fairly certain that it shouldn’t be just some kind of chronology. Books and documentaries have covered that ground before. If we were going to do a comic we wanted to do something that could only be achieved in the comics form.
“So, we started with The Lad Himself. After reading all the books again and watching all the DVDs, scribbling tons of notes and walking up and down a lot, I was surprised one day at the laptop to hear a voice mocking me for even attempting to capture Hancock in something as piffling as whatever it was I was trying and failing to do. I looked around and, no, the ghost of Hancock wasn’t there. But he’d somehow come to life as a ‘character’ in my head. And he wouldn’t shut up.
So, I wrote down everything he said. The ‘voice’ of Hancock became central to the story that started to emerge. I sent off the first bunch of pages to Keith and he seemed to agree that we were onto something. He quickly ‘staged’ the scenes I’d written and gave me a look at the pages.
“What astonished and pleased me the most was the ‘performance’ he was managing to get from ‘our’ Hancock. So we pressed on.
The anecdotal, slightly stream-of-consciousness narrative allows us to hop around the timeline of Hancock’s life. He even meets himself at different times. In the opening section, we establish the gap between Hancock the comedy persona and Hancock the very fallible human being. We explore the origins of his comedy and follow him through the Second World War and back to London afterwards, where along with just about every other British comedian of the period you can think of, he almost starved to death chasing a big break that defiantly refused to arrive.
In the Company of Giants
“We’ll see Tony in the company of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes. We’ll follow him through his lean years to his success as a radio comedian, surrounded by a team of co-stars that included Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques. We’ll watch as he transfers his radio character to television and becomes the nation’s favourite. Streets and pubs would empty when his programme was on the telly. Everybody loved him.
“But he didn’t love himself,” Stephen notes, ruefully. “While continuing to produce great, timeless work he gradually alienated just about every ally and friend he ever had. Galton and Simpson were disposed of (and went on to write Steptoe and Son); Sid James and Kenneth Williams were let go (and found immortality in the Carry On series of films). Wives, friends and acquaintances suffered and sometimes broke under the strain of Hancock’s self-destructive nature.
“And then, he wasn’t funny any more. He was only in his forties when he went to Australia, in an attempt to resurrect his television career, but he was so soaked in booze that he looked twenty years older. As Spike Milligan observed, ‘He ended up on his own. I thought, he’s got rid of everybody else, he’s going to get rid of himself. And he did.’
“The Hancock in our book has already demanded a look at the script and caught a glimpse of his fate. He’s not having that. He’s not having that at all…”
About the Creators
Stephen Walsh grew up in Dublin, watching grainy broadcasts of comedy and drama from the BBC that somehow wafted across the Irish Sea but would vanish as soon as the weather changed. Which, it being Dublin, was every five minutes. He never saw, for example, the conclusion of the classic Doctor Who serial The Day of the Daleks, but consoled himself with an imaginary version concocted when he was six years old (it featured werewolves who arrived aboard meteors).
Determined to put this extraordinary skill to some use, he has written for film, television and, perhaps most rewardingly, comics (especially the Charlotte Corday series).
Londoner Keith Page first became a fan of Tony Hancock whist watching the original Half Hour broadcasts as a child.
His first published work was in 1976 and he was represented by the Temple Art Agency for many years, working in a wide variety of genres for major comic and book publishers.
He has undertaken long runs of work on Thunderbirds and, latterly, Commando comics. However, he says the most fun was working on the ongoing Charlotte Corday fantasy/humour series.
Keith has a wide variety of other interests including continental comics, classic cars, sailing vessels and the novels of Georges Simenon.
About B7 Comics
B7 Comics is a new, exciting publishing division from B7 Media, offering new comics spanning SF, mystery and adventure in the coming months, kicking off with our all-new graphic novel based on the sci-fi noir story Pilgrim.
Blending classic comic storytelling with a modern style, and also looking to spotlight comic gems from around the globe both past and present, B7 Comics will offer a range of series spanning science fiction, action-adventure, spy-fi, steampunk, fantasy and gothic horror.
Tony Hancock in Film Fun
Tony Hancock first appeared in Film Fun in issue No 2008 in July 1958 and ran for 218 issues, initially drawn by Terry Wakefield. It was Reg Parlett who took over in June 1959, when the strip moved to a two-page format, with Sid James introduced to the strip. Parlett also drew a Tony Hancock strip for the final Film Fun annual.
Spanish artist Juan Rafart took over the strip when its was promoted to the front and back cover in January 1960, and continued to draw the strip until it wrapped with the final issue of the comic in September 1962, when Film Fun was merged with Buster, after an incredible 2225-issue run.
By then, Sid James had been dropped from the strip, just as he had been from the final Hancock’s TV series for the BBC. At this point, while never as lucky in life, “The Lad Himself” had become the heir to a run-down country estate, Hancock Acres, some episodes later reprinted in Lion in 1965 as “Lord Harry of Hardupp Hall”.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.