Review by Norman Boyd
Authors: Michael Butterworth, Leonard Matthews, G Allman, Jane Porter
Artists: Reg Bunn, Patrick Nicolle, Robert Forrest, John Millar Watt
Publisher: Book Palace Books, February 2021
Number of pages: 272
Format: Flexi Cover; Black & White illustrations
Size: 6″ x 8″ (165mm x 215mm)
Offering four historical stories with four different artists, Norman Wright and the late and sadly missed David Ashford wrote biographies for the four artists on these stories – Reg Bunn (best known for ‘The Spider’ and ‘The Waxer’), Patrick Nicolle (who is primarily remembered for his historical illustrations in Look and Learn but also his earlier strips in Comet and Sun), Robert Forrest, who I admit, for me, was a name half-remembered but his gothic drawing style for ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is brilliant; and, finally John Millar-Watt whose artwork is more known in colour in Princess, Look and Learn, Ranger and Once Upon A Time and in the reprinted story, still available from Book Palace, ‘Treasure Island’.
To the stories themselves. Again I’m dumbfounded how literate these adventures are.
“The Scottish Chiefs” comes from 1954 and is based on the book by Jane Porter, and tells of how the death of Alexander III marked the beginning of a long period of suffering for the Scottish people. His successor, the daughter of Eric, King of Norway, became Queen Margaret of Scotland until soon after her arrival in this foreign land, she dies before Edward I can marry his son to her to effect a union between England and Scotland.
In 1292 Edward I is called to be independent (!) judge of who should rule the Scots. He appoints John Baliol who soon finds he had little power and raises an army against Edward. The story continues showing battle, skullduggery, betrayal, and heroism. We are introduced to characters such as William Wallace and Robert The Bruce who finally settles the matter between the rival nations. Anyone wanting to speed read that period of history could do worse than read this story and the Reg Bunn artwork is a lesson in action drawing, without the need for superheroics.
“Under the Golden Dragon: The Story of the Norman Conquest” written by Michael Butterworth (of Trigan Empire fame) begins in 1042 in Winchester. A rider comes through a thunderstorm to tell Earl Godwin of Wessex that the King Hardacanute is dead, with no successor. Prince Edward of Normandy is called to be King and on his arrival we see the haughty attitude of the French towards Englishmen which leads the story into the confrontation between Godwin’s son, Harold, whose youth leads to him attacking the Normans, and fleeing England.
Meanwhile, we meet one William of Normandy who is promised by the King, Edward, that he will succeed him on the English throne. Godwin’s family return to a vast welcoming crowd and he marches with them to London. On challenging the armies he succeeds and before anyone kills the King he offers him peace but is nearly foiled by Randolph de Bohun. Harold Godwinsson defeats Randolph and the King sends him in exile. “For eleven years Harold was the power behind the throne” leads us into Harold’s ship being blown off course to Normandy where he meets one William! He dashes home to ask the King and finds it true that he promised his crown to William!
Soon we see Harold against Vikings in the North and then straight onto battling William, and we all know the outcome of this story! Riveting, well-drawn and we;;-told story from history.
“The Picture of Dorian Grey” is too well known for me to say much except the gothic darkness brought to the story by Robert Forrest, a name British comic art historians and collectors should know better, stands out even now in 2021. The 1956 story, written by Leonard Matthews, (the well-known editor of Amalgamated Press publications and Look and Learn), after the novel by Oscar Wilde, obviously, shows not only the seedy side of the docks in Victorian England, or the torrential rains that batter Britain, but also the grubby nature of selfishness and murder.
Lastly we have “The Three Musketeers and the Prince of Peril” drawn in gorgeous black and white by John Millar Watt, better known for his full colour artwork. The story starts with D’Artagnan getting in a quarrel with a stranger who turns out to be the person the King has asked him to protect from assassination attempts on French soil, Prince Philip of Spain!
This story, although contrived , still engages but what I found particularly interesting was how often Millar Watt used the same poses for various players in the story. [See WeTransfer on its way to you]
Another great choice of stories by Book palace with lovingly restored artwork and even some being labelled (in the Musketeers’ story) “scanned from a rare piece of original art”.
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.