Book Review: Comic Book Hero – Working With Britain’s Picture-Strip Legends

I’ve noticed that being a comic fan has changed somewhat over the last few decades. While many of us did notice some of the artists and writers behind a number of our favourite strips, books and titles we weren’t always that aware of the full creative team who brought us our favourite books on a weekly and monthly basis. The creative talents who made these comics possible and put their hearts and souls into these works but they were often the unsung heroes of our youth. It’s sad to say that while many could easily name one or two writers or artists, most back then couldn’t name editors or others key to the production of the comics.

Things are very different today where everyone playing a part in the creative process in a typical book receives the credit they deserve from the Editor at the top to all of the creative team – the penciller, inker, writer, colourist and letterer. But this time I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about one man in particular and his tale. That man is Barrie Tomlinson. For most of you reading this, his name may be unfamiliar, but at one point he was one of the most influential men in comics in the UK, with his career leading him to be the head of the Boys Sports and Adventure Department at IPC Magazines… the publisher responsible for some of the biggest comics in the UK at the time.

Now, Tomlinson has written a book sharing many of his memories from that time and his work on countless classic publications and the myriad of celebrities who he worked with along the way during his illustrious career.

Contrary to what you might expect, Comic Book Hero isn’t written in the style of a biography but rather in the form of a series of personal anecdotes covering Tomlinson’s career in the comic industry and his progression through the various titles he worked on at IPC and then memories of his work afterwards, mixed in with tales of what influenced his interest in comics and journalism. As a large part of Tomlinson’s early work for IPC focused on the sports comic Tiger. this is where a large part of the book focuses but it tells not only of his work and involvement but how he managed to draw in and work with some of the biggest sports personalities of the day and entice them into working on the publication as guest writers – a huge achievement for an editor back then, and something that he continued with the re-launched Eagle in 1982.

Each comic that he worked on is given it’s own section in the book with the aforementioned Tiger taking up almost a quarter of the 200+ pages but that doesn’t stop it making for fantastic reading whether you were a fan of the comic or not. Tomlinson’s writing style for the book is very relaxed and informal, almost conversational and really helps you to read through the book with ease and be entertained reading about each of the comics covered, irrespective of whether it was a titles you were ever interested in.

After his extensive run working on Tiger, Tomlinson moves on in the book to talk about the successful re-launch of Eagle which he spearheaded and campaigned for tirelessly with IPC (and we’ll be talking to Barrie in more detail about this at a later date), 2000AD, Scream, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (yes, I said “Hero” as Barrie worked on the UK version of the characters), MASK, various specials and one-shot annuals, and his subsequent work in greetings cards and newspaper comic strips. Reading through the pages of the book it’s astonishing to see just how diverse the range of work is that he has been associated with, not only in comics but beyond and you’d honestly find it hard to believe that it’s all come from one person.

However, I’m ignoring the book’s sub-title… Working With Britain’s Picture Strip Legends. Reading the book it’s clear that this sub-title has hidden meaning. It’s not just that Tomlinson has worked on the likes of Roy Of The Rovers, Dan Dare and other iconic British comic book characters as the title implies but also who he was worked with in his career. It didn’t seem to matter what comic it was that he was involved with, star names seemed to follow either because of the title’s reputation, Barrie’s persistence or both. Sports stars lined up to be associated with Tiger from the likes of England goalkeeper Gordon Banks to the legendary Pele, and crossing over to the world of entertainment with Morecambe and Wise and even the comic icon that was Peter Sellers. Reading through the book you begin to wonder just what celebrity will turn up or be mentioned next and throughout his career I do wonder if that thought ever went through Tomlinson’s mind as well…

There’s an incredible amount condensed into the book’s relatively short 224 pages and the book is lavishly illustrated with candid publicity shots and behind the scenes photographs and images from Tomlinson’s own personal collection that really bring the tales to life in a way that really does justice to the words on the page. Hearing about the interaction between him and major personalities is one thing but seeing them really adds a whole new dimension to them. The behind the scenes and historical images are just as remarkable including the original crib sheet for the first ever issue of the relaunched Eagle where he planned out the contents for the comic page-by-page.

Whether you are a fan of his work specifically, love one of more of the books he has been involved with, or are just a fan of British comics generally this really is an essential purchase. It provides a fantastic insight into the work of one of the great talents of the British comic industry and the impact he had on it for decades and the memories he has left with generations of comic fans to this day.

If you want to buy this book for yourself, it’s available direct from Pitch Publishing or from Amazon for £14.99 and is worth every penny.

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