Masters of British Comic Art
Written by: David Roach
We, as Americans, like to believe that we were the first at everything, and let’s face it: when it comes to pop culture, we have a tendency to hoard responsibility. This is even more prevalent when it comes to the comic book industry, where many readers believe that everything from Superman to Marmaduke were the beginning and future of every comic that could have ever existed. And while the American market has an iconic and diverse history to offer, something that is often passed up on is the influence and origin of British comics on the industry. It’s not entirely our fault, though. How does one even get around to learning the origins of comics that were never even published in your country? Thankfully, British illustrator and author David Roach is on the case, teaming up with Rebellion Publishing to bring Masters of British Comic Art to the table; ready to educate and enrapture anyone willing to dive into its door-stopping 384 pages containing over 400 images.
The book is split up into a whopping fourteen, densely-packed chapters, opening first with an introduction from Roach providing the reader with his personal history and relationship with British comics. From adolescence, Roach takes the reader through his life of readership while never being afraid to hammer home the idea that British comics are almost entirely responsible for the invention of the comic strip. For anyone who has never ventured outside of American comics publishers, some of the facts will prove to be rather eye opening, but it all serves its purpose as there is smooth transition from Roach’s intro to the second section of the book where the chapters and real factual history begin.
All fourteen chapters are jam packed with text and punctuated with crisp, clean scans of examples of the titles in which Roach is talking about. Each chapter is also split into a theme such as “Evolution”, “Comics in the Nursery”, “The British Invasion”, “The Language of Adventure”, and of course, “The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic”, where Roach is clearly unafraid to be as in-depth and verbose as possible. The chapters are well-structured and read similarly to a text book which proves useful as a reference source without ever sacrificing readability and ease for newcomers.
One of the most rewarding aspects of each chapter, however, is Roach’s willingness to walk the reader through a timeline. Though many comics art history books gladly begin their journey towards the beginning of the 21st century, Masters of British Comic Art jumps right in to offering British and European comic strips as the first to ever exist before gladly segueing into William Hogarth’s work in the early 1700’s, and slowly ending the chapter closer to present day. While this is done with almost every chapter, there never seems to be an overlap of information; instead presenting a different angle and perspective on the same periods of time.
The final section of the book is a generous Artists Gallery containing covers, prints, and unseen art from some of British comics most iconic titles and creators. It never comes across as random images thrown together though. While British comics have a history a mile long, the artwork feels curated and hand-picked. Readers are offered heaps of the classics such as covers from Action, Judy, and Carlos Ezquerra’s Star Lord, as well as more recent prints from the covers of Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl, Greg Staples’ Judge Dredd, Glyn Dillon’s The Nao of Brown, Frank Quietly’s The Endless, Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, and many more; emphasizing the shift and evolution that British comics have been through.
Overall, Masters of British Comic Art proves to be the definitive educational title to bring readers through the journey of comic strips from the perspective of British history. Readers looking to reach outside of their comfort zone of American titles and comics history will find a whole new world of information and staggeringly beautiful art within this wordy, but ultimately pivotal collection.
Masters of British Comic Art by David Roach will be available at all good book retailers as of April 2020.