The Girls’ comics scene in Britain of the 60s and 70s was a stunning thing and, thanks to the Treasury of British Comics and their reprint program, we’re getting to see so much of this previously lost work. Case in point, coming out in June, we get to thrill with the skateboarding action in Concrete Surfer!
It’s a classic girls’ comic setup, setting two girls against each other, the stuck-up posh girl goody-two-shoes and her just arrived from Australia cousin. It’s a soap opera style storyline of jealousy and class division all set against the skateboarding craze that was sweeping Britain at the time. And whilst the story itself is a classic and loads of fun to see the inevitable pan out, the joy to be found in the pages of Concrete Surfer comes from the lush, wonderfully clean artwork, restored to its glory…
As for the story in Concrete Surfer, it’s all about Jean Everidge, a working-class kid whose parents tried and failed to make a go of things in Australia. So while her mom and dad sort things out and try to get back, Jean’s been sent to live with her rich Aunt and Uncle, and her stuck-up, goody-two-shoes cousin… Carol.
Carol’s the best at everything she does, the perfect girl, top gymnast, apple of her parents’ eye, beloved by her teachers, fawned over by her friends. Exactly the sort of classic girls’ comic villain!
So when Jean gets out her board and shows everyone just how good she is, Carol’s jealousy goes into overdrive. Plot after plot comes out, all to make Jean look bad, so much so that you’re practically booing at the comic page with the wonderful pantomime of it all.
There’s the issue of setting up a skate park, getting the school to support a team, a TV ad promoting the new craze, a freestyling contest to win, and so much more in 80 odd pages that fly by as you read this collection.
But this is one book that’s worth taking your time over and luxuriating in the artwork. In fact, here’s the one advantage I can see when it comes to digital… the ability to zoom in onto every panel and really see just how good the artwork is.
Now, Pat Mills‘ name should be a familiar one, right? After all, he only created Battle (with John Wagner), Action, Misty, and 2000 AD, and has had a hand in so many strips over the years. But of course, his earlier career was in the girls’ comics that were so successful in Britain. He started on DC Thomson’s Romeo before going on to write for Tammy, Pink, and Sandy, and had a big hand (with Malcolm Shaw) in devising Jinty.
But, with all respect to Mills, the writing here isn’t the attraction. The huge draw is Christine Ellingham‘s artwork, which is just stunning. Her years of comics work for girls’ comics included a role as Tammy‘s art editor before freelancing to produce Race for a Fortune, Dance into Darkness, and Concrete Surfer. Sadly for us all, she left comics for illustration. But here, with her art getting the excellent reproduction it deserves, her comic art shines through.
It’s a delight looking closely at Ellingham’s artwork, the perfect fine line, the sense of movement in the skateboarding scenes, so difficult to get right… but you can see clearly from just the few examples here that Ellingham’s action and sports art is incredible.
But there’s much more to it than that, as her character work is wonderful to look at as well, giving Mills’ melodramatic script all the emotional depth it needs just with a facial expression or simple body language.
For example, take a look at this panel below…
It’s such a simple thing, just a group of girls sitting at their desks. Yet there’s no doubting the characters of the two leads here, with the relaxed dress and pose of Jean and the stiff, uniformed style of Carol. It’s just one panel in a book full of such wonders.
Whether you’re a fan of the Brit girls’ comics already or have never looked at any before, Concrete Surfer really is a delightful, stylish, fun book to grace the shelves of any comics fan.
Concrete Surfer by Pat Mills and Christine Ellingham, published by Treasury of British Comis in digital on 28 June and in print on 17 September.
Originally serialised in Jinty and the Jinty Summer Special 1978 from 28 January 1978 to 10 June 1978.
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