Thursday, January 29, 2009
Great Expectations 1965
Fans and pros alike have recently been admiring the fantastic job John M. Burns did illustrating the adaptation of Jane Eyre for Classical Comics. However, this isn't the first time that John has illustrated classic literature, as we see here.
Back in 1965 John was the artist on a serialization of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations for D.C. Thomson's girls' weekly Diana. This 24 page large format glossy publication was launched in 1963, a year before its more famous sister paper Jackie. As with most D.C. Thomson adventure titles, the line up of strips changed frequently to keep the comics fresh. Great Expectations began in Diana No.105, dated 20th February 1965. It ran for at least eight parts, but I'm not sure when it concluded. (It had ended before issue 128 anyway.)
Diana was a high quality comic with over half of its pages in full colour. Printed using the expensive Photogravure process, the same as Look and Learn and Eagle, it allowed artists to produce full colour painted artwork, as opposed to the the flat overlays used in most comics of the time.
I understand that John M. Burns had worked for Diana two years prior to this, illustrating Emily Bronté's Wuthering Heights for the comic in 1963. He'd also drawn Kelpie the Boy Wizard in Wham! in 1964, so was fast establishing himself as a quality illustrator. Later years would see him work on newspaper strips The Seekers and Modesty Blaise, and, amongst his many other achievements, drawing the sophisticated Countdown serial for the comic of the same name, The Tomorrow People for Look-In, and in recent times drawing Nikolai Dante for 2000AD. He is without a doubt one of the most skilled and accomplished artists to have graced British comics.
John Burns has never been shy about experimenting with his colour techniques for his strips. In Great Expectations he used earthy colours, greens and browns, which suited the story well. It was, perhaps, a little too dark in places, but credit must be given to Burns and his editor for presenting the strip in such a sophisticated way. A lesser editor might have demanded bright primary colours in every panel.
The latest issue of Crikey! ran an article on The Avengers strip that ran in Diana in 1967. The feature was illustrated with original art from the D.C. Thomson archives. As the company usually hold onto all their artwork, it's likely that Burns' Great Expectations original pages are also still safely preserved in the Dundee vaults. It'd be great to see the whole story reprinted one day, but probably unlikely.
Incidentally, Classical Comics is to publish its own adaptation of Great Expectations in March, with artwork by another UK veteran, John Stokes (who drew Fishboy in Buster). Details here: