Monday, July 12, 2010
The Very Best of Black Bob
The collection of classic Black Bob strips mentioned here in May has now been published and, like the Dandy Wonder Dog of the title, it's a champion.
The Very Best of Black Bob is a solid value for money hardback with 208 pages for £9.99. Compiled by ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie, who also provides an introduction and background info, the book reprints a good selection of Black Bob strips from the 1950s wonderfully illustrated by Jack Prout. Comic expert Ray Moore provides an index at the back of the collection with story titles, dates, reprint dates etc.
Inspired by the success of the MGM film Lassie Come Home the adventures of Black Bob began as a text story written by freelancer Kelman Frost in The Dandy in November 1944 and then as a picture-strip story in The Weekly News from 1946. These strips were later reprinted in The Dandy.
Black Bob was one of my favourite adventure strips as a young child and my Mum used it to teach me to read before I started school. Even back in the early 1960s the strip looked archaic and seemingly permanently set in the 1940s, but to me that was part of its charm. That and, of course, the clever collie known as Black Bob. I grew up in a house where pets were part of the family so the fictitious Black Bob became a friend along with the dogs and cats of my childhood.
Collies are apparently the most intelligent breed of dog, and I can verify that with the collie-cross dog I had for 18 years whose memory and understanding of language was superior to that of some children. However Black Bob exceeds them all, with his sharp mind and skills able to resolve dangerous situations in tales to delight and amaze. In his very first picture strip we're told "he knew very well how to open a car door" and later goes on to stop a runaway horse, fetch a fire hose to put out a burning rail truck, and fashion a crutch for a disabled tramp.
These heartwarming tales of selflessness and bravery from a dog were, I believe, inspirational for readers of The Dandy. If a "mere" dog could be so noble then surely we, as "superior" humans, could aspire to be the same or even better. Such stories of self-sacrifice and basic goodness were the backbone of Thomson adventure strips, particularly in the Black Bob tales.
Bob is a very sympathetic figure too. Often he becomes separated from his master Andrew Glenn, sometimes lost miles away, and the stories deal with his plight to be reunited with his owner. In this way the stories really pull at the heartstrings, which is not a bad thing to bring out feelings of compassion from the readers.
Of course, all this is assuming the readers actually like dogs. Those vain souls who are indifferent or hateful of animals probably never got the appeal of Black Bob at all and won't see the point of this collection. Perhaps people who don't like "old fashioned" looking strips won't like it either. That's their prerogative (and their loss in my opinion).
However for the rest of us The Very Best of Black Bob is a marvelous book for children, dog lovers, and collectors of nostalgia. I hope it proves to be a success and perhaps, just perhaps, will inspire D.C. Thomson (and Waverley Books) to produce The Complete Jonah next year.
The Very Best of Black Bob published by Waverley Books. £9.99 r.r.p.