As it says, right there on the back cover, Masters of British Comic Art is a celebration of the rich heritage of British comics throughout the decades. And, thanks to David Roach‘s writing, his excellent curation of ideas and history, it delivers on that back cover promise.
It’s a book that genuinely celebrates all that is great and good in Brit comics, from the beginnings to the right now, chapter after chapter of writings on just what makes the masters the masters.
We begin with the history of the art form, from the 18th Century masters of William Hogarth et al, and quickly move into the 20th Century, where Roach spends most of his time. He covers chapters on comedy, children’s’ comics, adventure strips, the Golden Age of Brit comics, which Roach defines as a strict moment between 1950-1969, not coincidentally the lifespan of the Eagle.
And then there are the chapters on the ‘Rise of the Agencies‘, a chapter on ‘Comics for Girls‘, a run through Brit comic strips, and the encroachment of American comics into the Brit scene. Roach revisits the British underground and then heads overground with a chapter devoted to 2000 AD, before heading into the 80s with Warrior, Alan Moore, and a Brit invasion of the USA comics scene.
All of which brings us, sort of, up to date, with Roach ending things well before the turn of the century. After all, when we define Masters of anything, it’s always best to ignore the last generation, the last 20 years or thereabouts, for fear of current bias. Although, after the first part of his artist’s gallery, he does give us something of a hidden chapter on masters of the 21st Century.
So what Roach does, in less than half his excellent book, is give us a flavour of what has come before in Brit comics, where the huge number of names thrown at us merely hints at all those that have been fundamental in creating the Brit comics we know and love. In here, you’ll find the familiar and the unexpected, the known and the unknown, and you’ll discover, as no doubt Roach meant you too, some wonderful, incredible masters of British comics art. That was his remit and that’s what he’s done. You can’t really expect or ask for more than that.
Like I say, his words fill less than half the book. And that’s just as they should. In a celebration of the Masters of British Comics Art, the lion’s share of the pages should always be given over to the art, just as it is here. So for more than half of this glorious book, you get to see the art behind the names Roach has featured, whether it’s John Armstrong, Leo Baxendale, Frank Bellamy, Shirley Bellwood, Simon Bisley, or Brian Bolland, and that’s just a few from the As and the Bs.
Yes, Masters of British Comics Art is a book that lives up to its name. It’s a magnificent book that covers everything it needs to do, gives you a great grounding in all things Brit comics and provides you with the base to go and investigate more. There’s so much in here, yet it’s just a fraction of the glories out there. Go seek the rest, go explore the names you discover here. It’s a book that fills you with the desire to do just that, and I imagine its author would feel satisfied in his work when you do.
Masters of British Comics, written by David Roach, published by Rebellion, 2 April 2020.
Okay then, here’s some of what you’ll find in that excellent gallery…
And finally, if you get this far down, that Bolland cover. You might think, as I did, that it’s art over a photo. Oh no, it’s so much more than that, it’s Bolland being Bolland. And it’s superb…