A Life with Comics is the latest specialist history of British comics edited by archivist and collector personal Alan Clark, delving into early British comics and the people who created them.
A memoir by G.M. Wilson, wife of artist Roy Wilson, it’s an account of the life and times of the King and Queen of British Golden Age comic papers of the 1930s.
Roy Wilson (full name, Royston Warner Wilson) is one of the most important British comic artists, considered the Raphael of between-the-wars humour comics. His artistic Arthurian-Merlin wizardry is legend., creating strips for titles such as Butterfly, Crackers, Funny Wonder, Golden and more, often featuring animal characters, all published by Amalgamated Press.
His work continued to appear in titles like Radio Fun (“Stymie and his Magic Wishbone”) and Tip Top (“Happy Andy”). In his later years, Wilson drew strips about famous personalities for TV Fun and Film Fun, but as noted in his Lambiek profile, slapstick work remained his favourite, on strips such as “Pitch and Toss”, “Stymie and his Magic Wishbone” and “Morecambe and Wise.” He died in 1965.
His wife, Gertrude Mary Wilson, is less well-known to comics fans but made significant achievements in her own right. Originally a school teacher, she married in 1924. In 1932, Amalgamated Press editor and family friend Leonard Stroud asked Gertrude to write stories for one of his titles, Butterfly. She created the detective character “Roy Keen”, and soon became a regular on Butterfly and other comics, writing anonymously.
“For every comics fan who might be surprised he had a talented writer-wife,” no doubt there’s a fan of his wife that will be surprised she had an artistic husband!” says Alan, whose other recent books include Edwardian Story Papers, a guide to titles such as Comic Cuts and more, and British Comics, Photographs & Images – Artists, Writers & Editors – a long title but exactly what it is, and a fascinating book it is, too!”
Leaving Amalgamated Press in 1956, Gertrude wrote 25 novels, one children’s book, and numerous short stories and radio serials.
“G.M. Wilson’s thrillers are popular internationally, and her plays broadcast on the BBC were equally so,” Alan notes. “For the comic papers she wrote serials and stories for the Amalgamated Press’ top titles and penned everything from ‘The Blue Domino’ to ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ to ‘Inspector Stanley’ and ‘Jane X’ (both in Radio Fun). And before her death [in 1986], she took typewriter to paper to tell us how a husband and wife team worked and lived.
“Moreover, this biography is unique in that it is the only biography to detail the life of a Golden Age comic artist and writer by a contemporary, Alan continues, “which is a remarkable thing in itself.
Running to 156 pages, modestly illustrated, A Life with Comics is “rich in text and comics’ history. Warm and human in its telling,” says Alan. “And no, G.M. Wilson would never have described it like that.
“She was far too modest and would without the slightest doubt blush at what she would regard as my purple prose. But I have no hesitation in saying all this and more.
“Mrs. Wilson did us all a great service by leaving us this biography. She was a star of the first magnitude.”
Based on material from Alan’s 1998 book, Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors
With thanks to Lew Stringer for the tip