Saturday, February 16, 2008
Eric Roberts' Billy Bunter
No, the bloke who played The Master in the 1996 Doctor Who tv movie isn't taking on the role of Billy Bunter. Eric Roberts was an artist who drew the Billy Bunter comic strip for a short time in Knockout in the 1950s.
Billy Bunter first appeared 100 years ago, and his Centenary was yesterday (since the story paper The Magnet No.1 introduced him to the world). I confess I know very little about the character outside of the Reg Parlett strips that ran in Valiant for years, and a vague memory of the Billy Bunter tv series. (Adult actors dressed as public schoolboys. Very strange.) More info on the character can be found on Wikipedia assuming it's correct.
The strips shown here are from Eric Roberts' original artwork. Roberts is better known today as the artist who drew Winker Watson and Dirty Dick for years in The Dandy, but in the 1950s he was freelancing for the Amalgamated Press. I'm not sure how many Billy Bunter strips he drew. It's likely he was just a fill-in artist. (Update: He did more than I assumed. See comments below.)
I've always liked the work of Eric Roberts. It's true that his characters seem a bit limited in design (look how his Mr.Quelch looks exactly like Mr.Creep of Winker Watson fame) but his bold brushwork and use of blacks appealed to me. The strip you see here was drawn in three half pages. (There may well have been a fourth, with the title affixed perhaps, but that has been lost over the years I imagine.) I've scanned in the entire half page that Eric called "Part 1" (above) and segments of the other two halves for you to study his work here.
The originals are huge (the art area for each half page is 390mm wide by 239mm high, plus margins) but hopefully these scans will appear the right size or larger on your screens so that you can appreciate them. As always, click on the images to see them full size. (You'll notice a difference in paper shade between panels 4 and 5 of the half page scan but that's just due to it being scanned as two halves and reassembled in Photoshop.)
As you can see, Bunter himself is more pear-shaped than usually portrayed. Under Eric Roberts' style he's all arse and stumpy legs. I've no idea which issue of Knockout this story originally appeared in, but it's reprinted in its entirety in Mike Higgs' collection The Big Fat Bunter Book (Hawk Books 1989).
For an excellent article on Billy Bunter see Steve Holland's recent blog entry here:
Update: On his brilliant Bear Alley blog, comics expert Steve Holland reveals:
"Roberts was on the strip for about 18 months following the death of Frank Minnitt, who had drawn the strip for nearly 20 years. Roberts was already a Knockout veteran himself, having drawn 'Mike' (later 'Mike & Dimps') for the paper since 1945; later he drew 'Sinbad Simms' for Knockout (1957-60) and 'Winker Watson' for Dandy (1967-79)."