TREASURY OF BRITISH COMICS WEEK! One of the staples of 1970s UK girls comics serials – including today’s review subject Concrete Surfer – was the story of the orphaned (or pseudo-orphaned) protagonist. A lead character who had either literally lost their parents or was effectively removed from them and left to fend for themselves in oppressive circumstances. Children’s homes, boarding schools, service, cruel relatives… all of these scenarios followed sympathetic youngsters forced to find their own way in difficult circumstances and probably, on some level, playing to the subconscious wish-fulfilment of their audience to live in a world without parents where harsh authority could be justifiably challenged.
In Concrete Surfer, collected by the Treasury of British Comics from the 1970s pages of Jinty, our central character Jean Everidge’s parents are still with us but they remain stuck in Australia after a disastrous attempt to relocate there. In the meantime Jean is sent back to the UK ahead of them to live with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Carol, whose perfect image she soon comes to resent. Carol is adored by her parents, incredibly popular at school with both pupils and teachers, and excels at everything she takes part in. Jean, meanwhile, is very much the outsider in her Carol’s shadow.
But there’s one thing that Jean can escape to – her love of skateboarding. It’s a hobby that gradually makes her more popular in the schoolyard as becoming the new craze among her friends. But her relationship with Carol continues to be an awkward one. Is Jean being unfair in her suspicions about her otherwise amiable cousin? Will the freedom of skateboarding be enough to help her cope with her new life away from her parents? And when Carol takes up the sport too will Jean be trumped once again in the local skateboard park’s skateboarding competition?
It’s not a great jump to say that Concrete Surfer was presumably responding to the skateboard fad that caught the UK public consciousness in the late 1970s. While the true crux of the narrative is a tried and tested tale of schoolgirl rivalry, writer Pat Mills had clearly researched the subject with storylines incorporating skateboarding moves, techniques and routines into the wider teen conflicts. The strip’s success, of course, hinged on the presence of an artist who could capture the dynamic energy and fluid motion of the skateboarder’s art and Christine Ellingham’s work is exemplary in that regard. Her sequential storytelling in the action scenes capture a sense of movement, determination, concentration and grace that is vital in allowing us to invest in the characters’ world.
Concrete Surfer was not a particularly long-lived feature but that’s actually to its advantage in that this 70-plus page story works as a complete “graphic novella”, setting up plotlines and working towards a logical resolution that is satisfying in itself without the need for follow-ups. It’s also a collection that will appeal to a whole new generation of readers dealing, as it does, with timeless themes of beating the odds and finding your own path in the face of peer pressure.
Pat Mills (W), Christine Ellingham • Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics, £9.99
Review by Andy Oliver