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Monday, December 24, 2007

60 (ish) Year Flashback: The Wonder Book of Comics

This book is a bit of a mystery. Published by Odhams, some sources date it to 1951, but the content looks a little older than that and the only copyright line inside reads "Copyright S.949.V", which presumably means 1949. If there was a dust jacket on the book it's been lost, but copies sold on eBay also seem to be missing their dust jackets so perhaps it never had one. Even more confusing, some copies (such as mine) have a maroon cover whilst others are green, but with the same content. (I can only assume the book was reprinted hence the different colours.)

The Wonder Book of Comics then, c.1949, was a chunky 320 page hardback containing a variety of material for children of all ages. Nursery-level strips ran alongside adventure text stories, and slapstick comedy strips. The pedigree of the contributors was first class: the best comic artists of the day (Roy Wilson, Walter Bell, Basil Reynolds, Tony Weare) plus the most popular children's writers of the time (Enid Blyton, Frank Richards, Captain W.E. Johns). Odhams clearly intended this book to represent the cream of the crop in children's reading matter, - in much the same way that 2008's forthcoming new comic, The DFC, intends to do by mixing in comic artists and children's authors.

With far too much material and not enough time for a detailed study of the contents, here's a selection of some of the best pages...

Roy Wilson contributed the artwork to Chums of the Circus featuring Chiff and Chuff, two mischievous clowns. Wilson was the top comic artist of the Amalgamated Press comics and the "house style" that new artists were encouraged to follow. His influence can still be seen today.

Sammy Smart the Schoolboy 'Tec invents a burlgar deterrent that certainly couldn't be shown in children's comics today; nails in a strap laid on the floor for the victim to walk on. A nasty shock for the French master who lets out "a shriek of pain, but in a foreign tongue"! But the discarded belt punctures the car tyres of the real burglar, so that's alright then.

Airman Al the Gadget King was a similar character to The Dandy's Screwy Driver in that he'd create labour saving devices that would often backfire. Drawn by Basil Reynolds this strip is pure quality.

Comedy sailors always seemed popular in comics of this period so the book had Breezy Bob and Jolly Jim which I think was drawn by Sam Fair although it looks very similar to the style of Allan Morley (but he's not credited in the book). Any clarification on this would be appreciated.

The text stories in the book had some wonderful illustrations, such as this page by Edgar Spenceley for the story Finger Wings.

The text story artwork that has the most impact though, in my opinion, are these pages by Will Nickless for the story The Portuguese Pirate. Superb figure work and an interesting line.

There's more info on Will Nickless on Steve Holland's blog here:

I'll probably revisit The Wonder Book of Comics at a later date to showcase more pages as it does seem quite a unique publication. If anyone has more information on this comic curiosity please add a comment.


Unknown said...

yep had one, seems like a 1000 years ago, lost in moves from one place to another, was probably my brother's originally as even I'm not that old. So where the hell did you find this one? (If it was any were near Bristol it's mine)

Lew Stringer said...

I picked it up from a Wolverhampton comic shop in the 1980s. There's an inscription "To Jimmy" inside it, dated 1951.

Unknown said...

No not mine (Bugger)

Lew Stringer said...

It's not Jimmy's now either. It's mine. ;-)

Briony said...

I don't know where this book came from or who owned it, but I remember reading it avidly when I was just a small dinosaur. The copy I remember had the front hardback cover missing but did have a gold colour back. The pages felt like they came from the comics themselves(apart from being really worn) never knew where it went either but would love to get a copy again now. Blast from the past or what. Favourite characters: Airman Al, Breezy Bob and Jolly Jim

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