Roy Of The Rovers No More? It’s All Change In Roy Of The Rovers – Transferred

by Richard Bruton

Roy Race starts a brand new football season with a real shock – he’s not a Melchester Rovers player anymore! The shocks and thrills continue in this fourth brilliant graphic novel from Rob Williams and new artist Lisa Henke. Roy of the Rovers may be no more… but that doesn’t stop this being a great ROTR graphic novel!

Yes, the graphic novel starts with that bombshelll that Roy of the Rovers is no more. Instead, he’s now playing up-front for Rovers’ bitter rivals, Premier League champions Tynecaster.
The reason? Well, if you’ve read any of the three previous graphic novels from Rob Williams and Ben Willsher or the prose novels by Tom Palmer and Lisa Henke, you won’t be too surprised to find out it’s all because of Melchester Rovers’ chairman, Barry ‘Meat’ Cleaver.
So, with the start of Transferred we get to see the unthinkable – Roy Race in a blue Tynecaster strip, alongside his Melchester strike-partner, Paco Diaz, turning out for the Premier League champions. Every young lads’ dream, right? Not if you’re Roy Race, whose blood very definitely runs red!
Now, for an idea of what’s going on, I’d definitely point you at the preview Comicon ran of the book here. Because I’m merely going to skate over the rather excellent plot to concentrate on the best footballing artwork I’ve seen in years from new artist Lisa Henke.
But make no mistake, in terms of story, this is the best of the series so far. It’s a far denser Roy of the Rovers graphic novel than we’ve seen up to now, and that just makes it an even better experience, thanks to the ways Rob Williams cleverly weaves the storylines together. In Transferred, you’ll not only see young Roy struggling to come to terms with suddenly being the very small fish in a very big pond full of international footballing stars, but also struggling with his own personal guilt at leaving the club he loves, the club his family love, the club all his friends are at. There’s a LOT of emotional hits here, all perfectly achieved…

It’s a book that has several plotlines, rather than the previous books where it was all about Roy’s struggle to get to play at Melchester Rovers and the backroom machinations of ‘Meat’ Cleaver. Here, there’s the obvious twin strands following two clubs; Roy at Tynecaster and the newly promoted Melchester Rovers in the third tier of English football. But there’s so much more than that; there’s the financial struggle of Melchester, the problems faced by the club with no manager, after Mighty Mouse had that devastating heart attack last season, and no coach – as Johnny Dexter gets fired in the first few pages on hearing the news that Roy and Paco are sold. Then there’s the emotional fallout around Melchester, what it means to be a red, and what that means for Roy now he’s seen as a traitorous blue. And there’s also chance to check in with Melchester’s premier women’s club, Sowerby, where the best footie player in the Race family, Roy’s sister Rocky, is busy making a name for herself.
Yes, it’s a graphic novel packed with plot and story, but as I say, it never feels at all cluttered, never rushed. And that’s thanks to the skills of the whole creative team, making this absolutely the best ROTR graphic novel yet.
And, when we’re talking creative teams, you may well have noticed there’s been some transfer news on that front as well. Ben Willsher, the artist on books 1-3 last season is replaced here by the artist who previously did the spot illos for those Tom Palmer prose ROTR novels, Lisa Henke.
Henke had already cut her ROTR teeth on the Rocky Race strip in the Tammy & Jinty Special, but here she really gets to show what she’s all about. And her art is a true revelation, incredible kinetic beauty on the page. To do a sports comic, you have to, absolutely have to, understand movement, the flow of the action, and Henke proves herself more than capable of doing that.
But more than that, she’s also quite capable of getting all the anger, all the disappointment, all the heartache involved in Transferred and she does every time, absolutely nailing it first time out.
Artistically, Willsher’s work was a great, great introduction, but here, with Henke’s more organic looking artwork compared to the sometimes more angular stuff from Willsher, the strip looks better than it ever has.
To give you a simple idea of what I mean about her art, I thought I’d take you through a few examples, starting with this, page 1, panels 1 and 2:

Now, I’m a sucker for abstraction and simplified works in comics (again, one day, I shall get around to telling you all about the master of abstract comics in the UK, one Simon Moreton) and I absolutely adore what Henke does in these first two panels, acting as an immediate introduction to the huge change for this season.
Panel one, a very simple panel that immediately introduces Roy to Tynecaster is good, but it’s panel two that truly impresses; with so few lines, Henke gets everything right, a simplified crowd scene, but it gets across everything it has to – the movement of the crowd, the excitement, the passion, and by implication, refers back to panel one, showing us just how overwhelming it all is for Roy.
Once the action begins, Henke really does show us how much control she has over the art and how her style is an absolute perfect match for ROTR. This panel is a few pages on, with the focus on Melchester Rovers’ first game of the season;

The artist’s eye, almost the camera angle, takes us to pitch-level, with the exaggeration of both ball and player a marvellous thing. It’s not realistic in the slightest, but what it does do, immediately, simply, brilliantly, is get you right into the action. You can feel the movement and the pace of the game just from that one panel – that is so impressive.
And she keeps that going throughout, every single on-pitch moment is so kinetic, so beautifully done, with the ball just getting more and more abstract, more and more pushed out of shape, all the better to pull us into the game with the players. Just like this…

Another abstracted, simplified down panel there in panel one, a training pitch scene that just explodes off the page. And in panel two, the perfect example of what I mean about the fantastic liberties Henke takes with the depiction of the ball in Transferred’s football sequences.
It really is a masterclass in how to show sporting action, Henke proving over and over just how good a fit she is for ROTR.
But, in Transferred, because of the density of the story, Henke needs a lot more than action. She’s called upon to do so much on the emotional side of things as well. And, no surprise, she steps up here too. Another couple of panels to show you just what I mean, first with a panel that so perfectly gets over the idea of Roy’s sense of being out of place, being overwhelmed by all that’s happening to him…

One simple figure, the rows of barely drawn seats, and the simplicity of the grass. Everything, absolutely everything about this panel is something to love.
And finally, this…

That, just like everything else in Roy of the Rovers: Transferred, is a beautiful piece of art.
Roy of the Rovers: Transferred is, by a long way, my favourite of the series so far, taking the story into all-new directions, with an artist who truly gets how a great sports comic should look. It is a wonderful thing.
Roy of the Rovers Book 4 – Transferred. Written by Rob Williams, art by Lisa Henke, letters by Jim Campbell, colors by John Charles, Guilherme Lindemberg Mendes & James Offredi. Published by Rebellion on 14 November 2019.

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