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.

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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:
http://www.classicalcomics.com/books/greatexpectations.html


8 comments:

jon haward said...

i was lucky enough to see all of john stokes pages for great expectations and i have to say every page was beautifully drawn with great detailing it really looks classic stuff.

great to see j.m.burns version as well, when it was first published i was just a wee baby!.
j.m.burns is a master craftsman ,i never tire looking at his work ,thanks for the blog lew

best
jon

Lew Stringer said...

Nice to hear from you Jon. I'm really looking forward to the John Stokes version too.

When I get time I'll be running a blog on Classical Comics, including your own great work of course.

Reuben said...

It really seems like that J M Burns is the last of the great British classical comic illustrators and I really hope more people say how great he is before he dies rather than, as is so often the case, after.
I read his glorious take on Jane Eyre over Christmas, which was jaw droppingly amazing.
I have also recently ordered Great Expectations, as strangely Classical Comics seem really hard to find in the shops. You'd of thought even Waterstones might of sold them really wouldn't you.

Lew Stringer said...

A few of the veterans from the golden era of British adventure comics are still with us Reuben (Mike Noble and John Stokes for two) but I know what you mean.

Yes, Classical Comics do seem hard to come by now you mention it. I've only ever bought copies directly from their tables at conventions, but I don't recall seeing them in bookshops.

jon haward said...

they are about waterstones in norwich had my macbeth books in their graphic novel section ,i guess the easy way to buy the books would be via amazon ,or diamond previews or forbidden planet webstore.

its been a struggle for clive and co to get the books in the shops as they are a small publisher but im sure they will win the shops over with their range and quality of product (fingers crossed)

Phil Rushton said...

Apart from the two strips you mention Lew, Burns also produced a gorgeous version of Lorna Doone for the comic as well as a black & white WW2 story called 'The White Mile'.

Incidentally, I always thought that for a girls' comic Diana chose some surprisingly gory subjects to adapt, starting out in Number One with Ben-Hur and going on to include El Cid and Macbeth - all of which would have been quite at home in the centre pages of the Eagle!

- Phil Rushton

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Phil. A blog on Burns' other Diana work is coming up!

jon haward said...

who drew the el cid , macbeth and ben-hur strips? i'd be interested to find out and to see pages.

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