Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Victor comic, fond memories

While visiting the Hull Vintage Fair with my family today I happened across a pile of faded yellowing Victor comics from the early 1970s. They weren't in the best of condition - certainly not collector quality - and at a £1 a time I didn't think it worth snatching up the bundle. Still, I had to buy a couple of copies for old time sake!

Left: One of the comics I bought, a 1972 vintage copy - just the time I was reading this sort of thing as a school boy. Note that it still has the newsagents pencilled mark for the address for delivery!

My early comic years were naturally spent on classics from the D.C. Thompson stable - I was from Dundee after all - like The Beano, The Dandy, Sparky and The Beezer. But as I grew I developed a taste for the war action comic and became a fan of The Victor, (New) Hotspur and Valiant comics.

The Victor was my favourite though and what I liked was the tales of historical daring do. The comic usually ran a feature story recounting a piece of British military bravery which resulted in some form of award or other. In retrospect I think this sort of story - and the general spirit of the other stories - was a little archaic by the 1970s but it did manage to limp along right up to it's eventual demise in 1992.

However, the writing was on the wall for this sort of historical daring-do type of boys comic and in 1975 my allegiances changed to The Battle Picture Weekly instead and by the time 2000AD was released in 1977 I had completely forgotten all about the good old Victor, Hotspur and Valiant.

These sort of 'ripping yarns' seemed to belong to another generation all-together and as with movies teenagers tastes had changes and they wanted their comic heroes of the rebellious, anti-establishment anti-heroic type. The stories in Battle and 2000AD not only featured a myriad of anti-heroes but also some would say a lot more violence and dark cynicism - but I suppose it was a sign of the times.

Aside from the traditional comic strip The Victor also included a text-based
story. Yes, they believed that school boys did actually read! These were
short tales of manly adventure written in a style which now makes one chuckle!
Now I am older I can look back on these comics as quaint and with a lot of fond nostalgia. But if I am honest even as a teenager I appreciated the high standards of these old classic, especially in their style of artwork. The later comics - like The Battle and more-so 2000AD - introduced a more highly frenetic style of artwork that embodied a far more rebellious and avant-garde philosophy towards young peoples print entertainment. I suppose in competing with television they felt that they had to make comics more 'exciting' in a rather more base way.

Anyway, to conclude - one other piece of rose-tinted fun was looking at the advertisements included in the comic. One of the best of which was this wonderful ad for Suger Smacks (what happened to them?) which included a picture of the then Dr. Who (John Pertwee)...

I remember making these little model cars - the link to Dr. Who being, of course, that Jon Pertwee's Doctor rode in a fine old-fashions canary yellow auto-mobile - and once again I find it hard to imagine that such simple pleasures would entertain the kids of today.

I've been mulling over my experience with comics through my life. As a graphic designer I have always enjoyed this form of illustrated narrative, I guess we would call them 'graphic novels' these days. Although in my day they were definitely and firmly aimed at pre-teens and teenagers.

My recent trip to Belgium - the spiritual home of European comics IMHO - reminded me that we Europeans have a fine tradition of quality comic illustration that rivals all the fuss we have these days over American or Japanese 'Graphic Novels'.

Brits tend to disregard our heritage as low brow,  grouping the British comics intended for young adultswith The Beano and Dandy. But they forget the beautiful work done by such classics as The Eagle and - it has to be said - latterly 2000AD. And the artists that created the illustrations seem to have been completely assigned to anonymity in this country.

Left: The legendary British comic, The Eagle. Before my time but my older brother's favourite, it included the British cult comic hero Dan Dare! I bought the relaunched Eagle when it came out in 1982, but it never recaptured it's original quality.

Even when young I had an enthusiastic interest in the art of comics and while I snapped up Battle, Warlord, 2000AD (as well as the famous Commando comics) I secretly collected a paper called 'Look and Learn' - the comic equivalent of 'Blue Peter' - for the superb work of Don Lawrence in 'The Trigan Empire'.

While in Belgium I did try to find some Trigan Empire volumes, but had no luck. Luckily I have tracked down a web site where you can buy these classics of British comic art: The Rise and Fall of The Trigan Empire

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