Apart from the James Bond, Jane and Modesty Blaise collections published by Titan Books, very few great British newspaper strips are, currently, available in print… in English, at least.
Thankfully, many great British newspaper strips were syndicated abroad, where their dedicated following means publishers like Manuel Caldas can happily publish new collections of strip, in Spanish. This includes three volumes of the brilliant western adventure “Matt Marriott” by James Edgar and Tony Weare, the latest, Enfrntamiento en Dodge City “Clash at Dodge City”) available now, a much-admired strip first published in the London Evening News between 1955 until 1977.
“Matt Marriott”, unusually for a newspaper strip, saw both Matt and his trail partner “Powder Horn” growing older as the story progressed. It’s fondly remembered for its stunning art by Tony Weare (1912 – 1994), whose early comic credits also included “Pride of the Circus” and “Billy Brave” for Mickey Mouse Weekly, “Greyfriars Ghost” for Comet, and “The Colditz Story” for Junior Express in the 1950s.
Tony studied at Bournemouth School of Art, but “chucked it to become a trooper in a cavalry regiment”, where he developed a love of horses, but would go on to buy himself out of the army and take on a variety of jobs. After serving as a radio operator during World War Two, his illustrations appeared in magazines like The Strand, Pearson’s, Britannia, Nash’s and John Bull, before moving into comics.
Post-Marriott, he worked on Tornado, drawing historical strips like “Billy the Kid”, “Jesse James” and “Jack the Ripper”, and illustrated a 16-part adaptation of W. Harrison Ainsworth’s Rookwood for Look and Learn. In the 1980s, he drew some sequences of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s “V for Vendetta” for Warrior, at David’s invitation, an admirer of his work.
“It was the finest and most atmospheric newspaper strip about the American Wild West that has ever been produced,” notes David Lloyd of “Matt Marriott”, a strip that earned him the award of Serious Strip Cartoonist of the Year from the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain, in 1961.
“Tony was one of just a very few strip artists here and in the US whose creative identities owed nothing to the heritage of stylisation which influenced many other newspaper adventure strip creators – he was primarily an illustrator who just happened to love drawing strips.His style on Marriott was that of a sketch artist – a portrayer of the instant. It was naturalistic, raw, and unsophisticated – perfect for depicting the primitive quality of a realistic-looking Wild West.
“One of his major strengths as a strip artist lay in his consistently creative compositions,” he noted. “If we look through the three-frame strips that make up the Matt Marriott stories we see no evidence of the repeated formulas of picture design which some strip artists use. Because of the sheer weight of material most of these craftsmen have to produce, easy options in picture composition are often sought by them and repeated to ease the burden of emitting a constant stream of new layouts; but when we look at Tony’s work it’s as if we’re just watching people going about their business through a lens that he has cleverly positioned for us, not viewing figures which are overtly posed for appropriate effect… He also had a superb command of light and shade, which promoted the impression that he was drawing something he could see in front of him, rather than something he’d built up from his imagination.
“… As a lifelong nature lover he preferred to draw the organic. This passion for depicting living things above all else, is what gives Tony’s work the energy which shines from almost everything he put his brush to. Like all the best artists, he sought to draw only what he loved to draw.”
Although some “Matt Marriott” stories were presented in an abridged format in Knockout in the early 1960s, and reprinted by the now defunct All Devon Comic Collectors Club, no official collections are available in English, although the strip was syndication widely abroad, gaining a dedicated following, and has previously been reprinted in Italian, by Ed C. Conti, Portuguese and other languages.
So far, Manuel Caldas has published three collections of Matt Marriott, episodes reproduced (an authentic and rare luxury) directly from the original boards, released in 100-plus page collections.
Anyone ordering copies direct from the publisher in the Iberian Peninsula gets free postage, and all orders include, in real size, a reproduction of an original strip of “Matt Marriott”, given as a gift.
Drawing on his own research and others, Steve Holland has assembled a welcome guide to all the Matt Marriott strips. There has been much consternation amongst strip collectors as the original “Matt Marriott” stories were never titled, and each adventure starts its numbering from No. 1. Titles weren’t printed in the London Evening News, but Tony Weare wrote story titles onto the scrapbooks he kept of the strips. A certain amount of information about early strips can also be derived from ADCCC reprints.
Tony Weare Links
Tony Weare, illustrator and strip artist, born Wincanton, Somerset 1st January 1912; married Hilda Trench (one son; marriage dissolved), secondly Marian Jowett (one son, one daughter); died Porthleven, Cornwall 2nd December 1994
• Tony Weare biography on the Lambiek
Sadly, while Tony Weare’s life is fairly well documented, including, sadly, his death by suicide, very little is known about Matt Marriott strip writer Jim Edgar. Information is welcomed, and comments on this 2006 Bear Alley posts have yielded more information since it was first published
With thanks to Paul Duncan for his photographs of the latest collection