Wednesday, August 17, 2016

True Brit: A Celebration of the Great Comic Book Artists of the UK

True Brit: A Celebration of the Great Comic Book Artists of the UK
Edited by George Khoury
TooMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, USA July 2004

'True Brit' (200 pp) from the American publishing company TooMorrows (which specializes in books on comics and graphic art) is, unfortunately, out of print. 

Copies in reasonable condition can be found at affordable prices at your usual online retailers. TooMorrows does offer a digital version / pdf for sale; this has color illustrations throughout (the printed version is entirely in black and white, save for a short insert of color pages).

'True Brit', with its pages packed with illustrations and crammed with tiny-font text, is one of those books made for the fans of both comic books and their artists. The book profiles 21 artists, spanning an era from ca. 1940 to 2003.

David Roach leads off the contents with a chapter on 'The History of British Comic Art'; this is indispensable reading for anyone wanting to understand how comic strips and comic books are formatted and distributed in the UK market, a process considerably different from that in place in the US. It provides a good overview of the evolution of comics in the UK from their introduction in the 19th century on up to the early 21st century.

The ensuing profiles cover both the Greats of UK comics, such as Frank Bellamy, Frank Hampson, and Sydney Jordan, as well as those artists - Brian Bolland, Alan Davis, Bryan Hitch, etc. - who began working for British publishers in the late 70s / early 90s, and then went on to fame and fortune providing work for US publishers like Marvel and DC.

The interviews make for interesting reading. Practically all of the interviewees display traditional English rectitude and self-effacement, along with the dry humor common to Brits. 

One thing that emerges quite clearly from the interviews is that the UK publishers were (and are) not very friendly towards their talent. Workplace benefits common to the US - such as allowing artists to retain possession of their original art - were rare in the UK. 

According to Brian Bolland, among the reasons he left IPC to work for the US publishers: 

For one thing the page rate was better; we got our own name printed - you know, we got credit - and we got our artwork back. All stuff we didn't get at home (i.e., the UK). We'd get reprint fees, royalties probably. We didn't get any of this at home here....we were all becoming aware that in American comics you had certain legal rights which were honored by the seemed like a very attractive proposition. 

One fault I have with 'True Brit' is book's formatting; it takes some getting used to, as it adopts a number of awkward layouts for both the text and the illustrations............ 

Some of the profiled artists are ones unfamiliar to me, such as Leo Baxendale, Hunt Emerson, and Ken Reid. These were artists who focused on humor strips, and their work was aimed both at the newspaper-based readership, and comic books for children, which historically has represented a significant portion of the market in the UK.

Given that many of those artists considered as being 'new' back in 2004, when the book was published, have now entered into retirement (or semi-retirement) the main value of 'True Brit' for American audiences is to familiarize them with the work of these British artists during the 90s and early 2000s. 

While it's a given that most American comic book fans will be acquainted with Kevin O'Neil's work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, there is a lot of outstanding work for other titles in both the UK and the US that is showcased here and will undoubtedly lead readers to seek out............for me, it was the 1982 - 1983 DC series Camelot 3000, featuring artwork by Brian Bolland.

Summing up, if you are a fan of British comics and British artists, then getting a copy of 'True Brit' is well worth the effort. Don't be at all surprised if some of the works described in this book pique your interest and lead you to seek comics that you may have been unaware of.......

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