I doubt whether there is anyone working in comics, past or present, who has had a career more varied or interesting that that enjoyed by Barrie Tomlinson. Working his way from the bottom up, Barrie went on to become Group Editor on such familiar IPC and Fleetway titles as Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Eagle and Scream! He basically had a hand in most of my favourite comics from my childhood and this book was therefore always going to be a must read for me. The word ‘comic’ almost undersells the titles he worked on, because most of them had great feature content as well as comic strips. They were young peoples’ magazines rather than just comics and they were packed with interesting material.
I’m pleased to say, then, that Comic Book Hero doesn’t disappoint. The book itself is a pleasing size and the glossy hardback cover is colourful and eye-catching. Opening it, you really do feel you’re stepping back in time as the book takes us back to days past and tells the story behind those comics and characters that so many of us have grown to love over the years and decades.
We follow Barrie’s career from his early days, starting in 1961, working on titles such as Lion. Sports comics played a huge part in his working life and Tiger and Roy of the Rovers (including writing “The Hard Man”) are rightly given a large emphasis here.
Barrie was far more than just an Editor or Group Editor – he was a showman. He garnered publicity for his comics and went out and promoted them. He understood that comics need great content but they need great publicity as well. In the case of Tiger and Roy, he got a mind-boggling number of sporting stars to come in and help promote the comics. And not just sports celebrities – the likes of Morecambe and Wise as well. The pedigree of the people he managed to get involved is really quite incredible.
The section on Eagle is of particular interest to me because that was undoubtedly the comic which influenced me most in my early years. We learn about how Barrie brought back Dan Dare and made photo-stories an important part of boy’s comics. Once again, he really pushed the title and wrung as much publicity out of it as he could, even persuading the Game for a Laugh team to visit the Eagle offices!
Also of great interest is the chapter on Battle and here we see some preliminary drawings of some of the Storm Force characters from the title’s later years, something of an exclusive for the book.
There’s an excellent section on the horror comic Scream! which I’m sure will be one of the most interesting parts of the book for many comics enthusiasts. Barrie does not shy away from the controversies caused by this title and he gives us a flavour of the office politics behind Scream! and the problems involved with getting it out on the shelves. All the time, though, he’s even-handed. There’s not a scrap of bitterness or resentment in the whole book.
Other, less well-known comics such as Speed, Hot-Shot, Supernaturals and Wildcat also get a mention and there’s a section on the long-running (and much-missed) Scorer strip from The Mirror which Barrie created and wrote for many years.
The book’s wrapped up with material on some of Barrie’s lesser known projects such as editing his community magazine and some funny stories about his various appearances on radio and TV.
This is a book about the joy of producing comics and there’s no cynicism here, only positivity. Barrie does seem to have some regrets about having some of his titles taken away from him having spent a period of time working on them freelance from home, but this is not dwelt on and we’re soon on to more memories and anecdotes. He’s generous with praise, paying fair dues to his colleagues such as David Hunt (editor of and Eagle other titles) and making it very clear that the comics were a team effort with many talented people making a contribution.
It’s also nice that Barrie tips the hat to comic fans who have kept the memories of his many titles alive through fanzines and websites. It makes you realise that comics fans and creators are all part of the same industry and we’re united in our love of Dan Dare, Roy Race, Ghastly McNasty and all those other wonderful characters of yesteryear!
Win a copy of Comic Book Hero!
We have TWO copies of Comic Book Hero to give away! Simply answer these three questions
- In what year did Barrie Tomlinson first work on comics? 1951, 1961, 1971?
- Doug Maxted illustrated which story that Barrie wrote for many years?
- The “Death Wish” story Barrie wrote appeared in Eagle, Tiger and which other title?
Send us your answers via downthetubesnetATyahoo.co.uk (please include “Comic Book Hero Competition” in the subject line) by 12 noon Thursday 19th October 2017. Good luck!
Comic Book Hero: Working with Britain’s Picture-Strip Legends
By: Barrie Tomlinson
Former Co-ordinator of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Publisher and Editor of comics-related fanzines. Contributor to books on Doctor Who from Virgin and Miwk Publishing. Contributor to cult TV fanzines and periodicals.