Friday, 12 September 2008
British Comics - Part Six - Joe Colquhoun (an unsung hero)
Very few people have heard of Joe Colquhoun. I strongly doubt that any American comic book readers would have heard of him. France? Probably but then again they, like the Japanese, take comics very seriously.
Certainly over here in the UK, although he is much revered, he simply hasn't received the kind of kudos that he so deserves.
Joe was born in 1927 in Harrow, Middlesex, England. Even as a child he had wanted to be a comic illustrator but unfortunately the second world war got in the way of his passion. He joined the Navy and, so popular legend has it, loved his time in service.
As the war drew to its end, Joe then joined Kingston school of art which gave him the break he was after. As with all things though, reality bit hard and the harsh economic climate of late 1940's England proved a battle in it self.
1951 was the year of his first published work in the comic 'Jungle Trails' where he drew 'Carver of the Island'. Joining the huge conglomerate IPC, where he was to remain for thirty years, he started working on The Lion and, two years later, its sister publication Tiger.
All of these were very typical boys adventure strips. Nothing very groundbreaking but all of them highly entertaining. Then, with a bit of luck and damn good timing, Joe was asked to illustrate a new boys footballing strip. Roy of the Rovers. Loosely based on the tragic Busby Babes of English Footballing legend, Manchester United, this strip was an instant success and was bought in truck loads by boys from the age of six up to sixteen.He didn't just draw it either, there were times when he both scripted and illustrated it as well.
Roy of the Rovers has remained one of British comics success stories and is still being produced today.Funny thing is Joe hated football and only stayed with the strip for six years.
At the start of the seventies he was working on humorous comics like 'Cor!' and 'Buster'. The man behind Warrior, Dez Skinn who during the early seventies was Editor of 'Buster' had this to say of Joe...
"I had the wonderful opportunity of working with Joe in the mid-'70s. I wouldn't call his Buster work 'humour' as he produced a fabulous 2-page weekly full colour strip 'Kid Chameleon.' This predated his Battle work, but is one of those forgotten wonders of British comics. I remember driving out to visit him at his home and he was as wonderful a person as he was an artist. I only regret his brilliance wasn't realised in his own lifetime and that it's only now being appreciated."
As with his tenure on 'Roy of the Rovers' he remained with the strip for six years and then moved onto another IPC publication, 'Battle Picture Weekly'. Initially he drew 'Soldier Sharp-the Rat of the Rifles' and then was asked to start illustrating a strip about an English world war two pilot who flew and fought with the Russian Airforce. The strip was entitled 'Johnny Red'.
Johnny Red went on to be another notch of success in the Colquhoun portfolio and although Joe only worked on it for two years, it brought him to the attention of one Pat Mills. Pat had been asked to work on Battle and decided to try something a little different. Something that would push the envelope to stretching point. World War Two books, films and comics have always sold well. There is lots of movement in them, lots of action. Men and tanks moving into battle. World War One was not at all like this. It was trench warfare. Slow. Suicidal. Boring. It was also one hell of a disaster in terms of human infantry loss.
'Charleys War' was the resultant work of near genius. And it took the two men, Mills and Colquhoun working in a tight relationship to deliver this mini masterpiece.
Mills stories were graphically bitter-sweet tales that had a grim, and sometimes black humour, about them. Cleverly spun and intertwined into the tales was the central characters, Charley Bourne's, letters home. Written in a Cockney sparrow's poor English they had a massive emotional impact on the stories. Poignant and tragic, and often miserable, they conveyed the honest truth that World War One was no fun at all.
The strip lasted for eight years and took the tale, in chronological and historical order, right up to the start of the Second World War. 'Charleys War' ended in 1987.It was, and still is a remarkable piece of comic book fiction. Something that I will have to return to later.
The man was a stalwart of British comicdom. His attention to detail was staggering. The panel structure was amazing. Unlike so many, especially American studio artists, he drew the characters faces with the emotion that matched the story and, more importantly the panel.
He was far too slow and wouldn't, couldn't have made much money but for Joe getting it right was the all consuming philosophy that was his hallmark. Among the legends of British comic books that include Don Lawrence, Frank Bellamy, Frank Hampson, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, Joe should be numbered alongside them.
In 1982 Joe sadly had a heart attack and had to, whilst recovering, albeit briefly, stop drawing the strip. He was sorely missed and in his absence no other artist could truly fill his enormous boots. Joe continued working in the comic genre up until his death in late 1987
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.