Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The final fate of Billy's Boots!

Remember Billy Dane? The kid who found an ancient pair of football boots that once belonged to professional footballer Dead-Shot Keen? And how those boots magically enabled Billy to play superbly in Dead-Shot's style?

If you do remember it you'll probably know that Billy's Boots ran for years, beginning in issue one of Scorcher in 1970 (as reviewed here) and continuing seemingly forever in the pages of Tiger. As was the tradition of most comic strips, Billy never aged, remaining approximately 12 years old throughout the decades. This became increasingly bizarre for long term readers but ideal for newer generations to relate to him.

However, when the strips were reprinted over in Holland, something different occurred. There, Billy eventually grew up and his repetitive storylines actually led into a different direction, and into a conclusion.

Billy's Boots, under the Dutch title De Wondersloffen van Sjakie (The Magic Boots of Sjakie, - Sjakie being Billy) was published in Holland from 1973 to 1975 in the comic Sjors. As you can see below, some changes were necessary for a story where, in Tiger, Billy traveled to Holland on the ferry to play in a cup match. In the Dutch version, Sjakie was already living in Holland of course so UK artist John Gillatt was specially commissioned to draw a new sequence, replacing the ferry trip with Sjakie hitchhiking to the venue in Amsterdam.

Compare the original English version with the Dutch revision:

Incidentally, the drawing on the truck is a caricature of the Dutch editor, Meerten Welleman, which Gillatt was asked to include as a joke from Welleman's colleagues. The wording on the truck says "Oberon Strips kilometres leesplezier" ("Oberon Strips, kilometres of reading pleasure", a reference to Dutch publisher Oberon.)

In the final issue of Sjors in 1975 a completely new ending was devised for the strip. In the UK version Billy's adventures continued indefinitely but in Holland Oberon decided that Sjakie's story should have a definite conclusion. Therefore Billy (or rather Sjakie) signs a contract to become a professional footballer. His hard slog over the years has finally paid off, and the story ends with him giving a toast to the memory of Dead-Shot Keen.

The artwork for the final episode was by Jaap Verwey, who also drew for the Dutch version of Bunty.

De Wondersloffen van Sjake was published in 33 albums from 1980 to 2000 featuring the John Gillatt strips in books 1 to 24 and Mike Western's work in books 25 to 33. Book one had 56 pages of strip and the rest had 46. A selection of the books covers with brand new artwork by John Gillatt can be seen below:

My thanks to reader Alex van Koten for supplying me with info and images about this topic.


keepsakes said...

Bah! I always thought that there was something very wrong with that strip somehow, and Dane getting a job as a pro footballer despite having no talent of his own is the last straw. At least in the British original it's only school soccer.
I enjoy your blog a lot, by the way, Lew and always liked your artwork. Ian

Kid said...

Nah, it never happened - Billy Dane is still a schoolboy who has never grown up - just like me. (Those Dutchies, eh?)

Dave Whit said...

a really enjoyable - and surprising article. It was really nice to be able to see the two versions of the strip and to find out that the Dutch strip was given a proper ending.

The Fleetway/IPC strips were quite successful in Europe, weren't they. I've got a Swedish 1990s Buster comic somewhere, which is comic- book sized and features a slightly altered Buster character, although his mum looks exactly the same as the British version. It's a great shame that IPC no longer produces British comics.

Thanks again to you and Alex van Koten for this intriguing article.

SPC said...

Great stuff! Now we just need to find out whatever happened to Nipper Lawrence!

GoBoGo! said...

Hi Lew,

Alex van Koten just mailed me about your Billy's Boots message. What a way to be remember. I was or still am very fond of Billy's Boots. The stories were okay, but the (full colour) artwork by John Gillatt was exceptional. Most of them were for the covers of the Sjakie albums. Although I'm still working in comics today (35 years this year) I'm a bit out of touch with comic strips in the U.K. lately, although I've always been a fan, thanks to Da Dare and Thunderbirds by Frank Bellamy, The Trigan Empire by Don Lawrence and lot's of other great comic strips. I've been editor of The Trigan Empire and Storm by Don Lawrence for a very long time, actually up until his death in december 2003.

Carry on the good work.

Cheers, Meerten

Lew Stringer said...

Good to hear from you Meerten. I should have mentioned that The Trigan Empire was big in the Netherlands, and of course Storm was created for the Dutch market.

GoBoGo! said...

Hi Lew,

After twenty years I am in touch again with John Gillatt. He's doing fine and we are sharing the fondest memories.

Cheers, Meerten

Lew Stringer said...

That's good to hear.

DuncMac said...

Absolutely no reason why you should be the remotest bit interested in this, BUT... my son Billy's football boots disintegrated in training on Saturday and we needed to get a pair for his team's crucial, 6-pointer, clash of the titans (Under 9s, Division C) on Sunday. Not a single pair of size 4 football boots could be found in the entire town where we live or the neighbouring one so we had to buy a pair of rugby boots and just hope nobody noticed. Needless to say, by full time on Sunday, he'd scored 2 screamers and set 2 up in a 4-1 victory, and the legacy of Billy's Boots continues in real life! Sort of feel I should be paying royalties to someone though...

Lew Stringer said...

That's a brilliant story! Thanks for posting it.

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