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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

More forgotten classics from John M. Burns

Following on from my blog last week regarding the 1965 adaptation of Great Expectations illustrated by John M. Burns, some more of his work for the same comic has come to light. Once again the strips are from the glossy girls' weekly Diana, from the mid-1960s.

These strips will already be well known by some collectors no doubt but I'll bet that most fans of John's work will have never seen them simply because, for most of us male readers, girls comics were a no-go area. A pity, because, like other D.C. Thomson comics, Diana featured some top quality stories and artwork.

Late 1963/early 1964 saw John's work appear in the weekly with the adaptation of Emily Bronté's Wuthering Heights. Episode five, shown above, appeared in Diana No. 46, dated 4th January 1964. Credit to John for using a mature colour palette although some of the browns reproduced a bit muddy even with the benefits of Photogravure printing. Today, the intense script would be considered "compressed", but Burns handles it well, retaining readers interest with a nicely designed layout.

Later in 1964, with issue No.79, John M. Burns was illustrating a brand new strip, embellished in grey wash rather than full colour. Not a strip based on a literary classic this time, but it did feature some "classic" elements of girls' comic fiction of the period. The White Mile told of Vicky Foster, "a cripple" who pits her wits against Nazis who have invaded the bird sanctuary isle she lives on. I don't know how this strip progressed as I only have two chapters but once again Burns turned in a skillful job. (The example above is from Diana No.80, dated 29th August 1964.)

1965 saw John's adaptation of Great Expectations as seen on the previous blog. A year later, with Diana No.151, dated 8th January 1966, his adaptation of Lorna Doone (above) began. This 1859 novel by Richard Doddridge Blackmore must have given Burns quite a task in terms of period research but as ever the brushwork looked effortless on the page.

What these strips demonstrate is the amazing quality of comic strip art in British comics of the time. The 1960s were the period when British adventure strips hit their stride, in both boys and girls comics. In the case of Diana, although it was a large glossy publication that one might imagine would focus on fashion tips and pop features, the emphasis was definitely on comic strips. (At least in the mid-Sixties editions I have.) More on this comic in a future blog!


Anonymous said...

Diana was definitely the cream of the girls comic crop in the 1964-7 period. But running it a very close second was GIRL with art from all the Odhams regulars, especially Gerry Haylock. In fact, most of the girls comics of this period provided work for the great strip illustrators, it is indeed a real pity they were off-bounds to he-men 6 year olds like ud!!

Peter Gray said...

Another new comic for me to discover...
The good thing about ebay is you can buy girl comics without the red cheeks..:) Mind you that art and whats in the comic is very grown up and interesting for an older male reader.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention of what we are missing..

si said...


some time ago I bought in a house clearance sale a artist folder containing original Black ink drawings, with 11 of them being the artist JM Burns. All are stunning showing action. I would like to find out more about JM Burns and if these drawings I have were ever used.



Sean Michael Wilson said...

Regarding Wuthering Heights. Wonderful to see these. - You said 'Today, the intense script would be considered "compressed",' Ha, got that right - very compressed! Do we know who wrote that, or was it also by John? I should ask him.

I adapted the recent version of Wuthering Heights, published by Classical Comics, and, as you may know, illustrated by John again! How odd for him to do the same book twice - and coming up for 50 years later! But fascinating to compare his art in this 1963 version to the 2011 version. Both wonderful! As you say, despite the script, John made the 1963 version hang together well.

I hope that in our new version, with a more generously paced and inclusive script, more time to do the work and excellent printing that John's art has been given more room to shine.

Please check it out. A great review of our recent version just went up here on a Bronte site:

Cheers, Sean

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