TREASURY OF BRITISH COMICS WEEK! Continuing our coverage this week of Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics range of reprint volumes and all-new Specials we caught up with Rebellion Senior Graphic Novels Editor Keith Richardson (with additional input from Roy of the Rovers brand manager Bobby McGill) to talk about the line. Keith chats to us below about reintroducing some of British comics’ most fondly remembered classic characters to a whole new audience of readers, what Rebellion have planned for the future, and obscure UK strips of yesteryear…
ANDY OLIVER: Can you introduce yourself both in the context of your role at Rebellion and your wider comics background?
KEITH RICHARDSON: I’m Keith Richardson – the senior Graphic Novels Editor at Rebellion. I have worked in the industry for eighteen years as an editor and writer.
AO: What relationships do you have with the characters showcased in the Specials? Are you a long-term fan or did you come to these properties with a fresher perspective?
RICHARDSON: Well, I collected many of the IPC funny books when I was a youngster. Buster was my favourite as it had The Leopard from Lime Street within its pages every week. I also collected the new Eagle, Oink!, Roy of the Rovers and (the jewel in the IPC crown) Scream!. Beyond that I was given random bundles of old Lion and Tiger comics, so I have long been a fan of many of these titles. Only the girls comics and the Odhams titles were unfamiliar to me. Misty, Jinty, Wham! and Smash! have been a revelation to me! Such great titles. And Johnny Future from Fantastic! is probably one of our collections that I’m most proud of.
I think that The Leopard from Lime street cemented my love of the superhero genre and had much more of an impact on me than any of the American heroes. It was far more relatable, seeing this guy running across semi-detached rooftops instead of swinging around New York skyscrapers. I always thought that Lime Street was located in the East End, but reading the strip now, it is quite clearly set up North.
The Thirteenth Floor was always a firm favourite of mine and the last think that I would read after picking up my batch of weekly British comics every Friday. It was my comic strip dessert. Funny, chilling and so inventive. It probably also resonated with me because Scream! was out around the time I got my Spectrum Plus and was getting into computers. Max was and still is one of the best characters to ever appear in British comics.
AO: When planning new stories for the vast archive of classic characters Rebellion now owns how do you tackle that unenviable balancing act of ensuring they appeal to the nostalgists with fan-pleasing moments while remaining accessible to new readers?
RICHARDSON: It is difficult and we are never going to please everyone. We try to get a mixture of new and established creators involved in each project and we always try to retain that original spirit of each strip. I’m familiar with and in many case a fan of most of this IP. Of course we also have to cater for potential new readers and some IP need more updating than others in order for it to work for modern audiences.
AO: That newer audience is, of course, a vital one to appeal to. What has been the most rewarding feedback you’ve had to date? Particularly in regards to younger audiences.
RICHARDSON: A twelve-year-old kid was in Forbidden Planet when we had a signing for the first The Vigilant comic. He came over to the table with his dad, not quite knowing what was going on and ended up walking away with a comic. An hour later I bumped into them when I was leaving the store. The kid came over to tell me that he had read the comic when he and his dad went to a cafe and that he absolutely loved it. The Vigilant became his favourite super-team right there, supplanting The Avengers from his top spot!
The most rewarding thing for me though happened when my (almost) four-year-old daughter took off with my Cor!! & Buster trade. She loves it, particularly the strips which feature fart gags.
AO: Turning to the 2021 Specials line-up there’s a spotlight volume on a character who has become something of a breakout favourite. What can we expect from July’s Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh! Special?
RICHARDSON: Blood, guts, wizards, witches and golems. Beautiful artwork from an artist at the top of her game. A thrilling script from a writer at the top of his street! And a few surprising extras.
Black Beth cover by Andrea Bulgarelli, interiors by Alec Worley and DaNi
AO: Monster Fun, one of the great cult classics of 1970s comics, returns for Halloween with a new Special. What classic characters can we hope to see updated with a 2021 twist in its pages in October?
RICHARDSON: Well, Frankie Stein is back as guest editor whilst staring in his own strip. Other Monster Fun stalwarts like Kid Kong, Martha’s Monster Make Up and Gums also return. There are a few offerings from the great Tom Paterson including Sweeny Toddler and a new character, Gah! and a member of the Vigilant appears to splash a little action amongst the funny pages.
Gah! art by Tom Paterson
AO: One of the great Rebellion success stories of recent years has been the Roy of the Rovers franchise which has included new comics, novels and classic reprints. What do you put Roy’s enduring appeal down to?
RICHARDSON: His impressive left foot and some legendary haircuts.
BOBBY MCGILL [Roy of the Rovers brand manager]: For a number of years, Roy was, to some extent, one of the most well-known ‘footballers’ in Britain, and in the brand’s heyday was selling over 500,000 copies a week. This means that there are still a lot of football fans who grew up with Roy. For many, he was an essential part of their football education when growing up, and we’ve seen this in the response to the new series. People who love football will never not want more football, whatever format that comes in, so fans are still keen to read of Roy’s adventures in this new age of football, as well as introduce their children to their childhood hero.
While sometimes overly-dramatic, Roy Race has always been at the heart of British football, and the series still keeps that sense alive, tapping into shared experiences of many fans and children, from money troubles and social media to being a carer for a loved one and dealing with injuries. Rob [Williams} and Tom [Palmer} have really zeroed in on this, and it has helped Roy and Melchester to really feel like they’re at the front line of British football once again.
We’re moving into our Third Season of titles, and with more to come from Roy and sister Rocky, the future is definitely red and yellow!
AO: Everyone will have their own favourite characters or titles they would like to see revived. (My own picks would be Krazy and Cheeky!). But what would be your dream revival to work on from all the properties Rebellion have yet to revisit?
RICHARDSON: Helmet Head. This was a short-lived strip which ran in the pages of Tiger and Hurricane in 1968/69. It is about a robotic gunslinger dishing up some rough(ish) justice in the wild west. Beautiful art by Jim Bleach.
AO: And, finally, as parting words what’s the one thing you’re most excited about from Rebellion this year?
RICHARDSON: It is hard to pick just one thing. I’m really excited about the two specials. Black Beth is an absolute treat for the eyes and Monster Fun has been a lot of fun to work on. It is both funny and irreverent in the way the kid’s comics used to be.
In regards to the trades, I’m really looking forward to getting the Tom Paterson collection published. It is long overdue in my opinion. He’s one of the great British comic artists and criminally undervalued. To top it all off, he’s a lovely guy as well!
For more on the Treasury of British Comics range check out their website here.
Interview by Andy Oliver