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THE EAGLE SOCIETY is dedicated to the memory of EAGLE - Britain's National Picture Strip Weekly - the leading Boy's magazine of the 1950s and 1960s. We publish a quarterly journal - the Eagle Times.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Classic Bible Stories

The first of an intended series of books reprinting Classic Bible Stories from Eagle has been published by Titan Books. The first volume collects two stories: 'The Road of Courage', the story of Jesus of Nazareth, written by the Revd. Marcus Morris and illustrated by Frank Hampson, and 'Mark the Youngest Disciple', written by the Revd. Chad Varah and illustrated by Giorgio Bellavitis. 'The Road of Courage' which appeared in Eagle in 1961, was Hampson's last work for Eagle and shows him, arguably at his best, and certainly at his most consistent. 'Mark the Youngest Disciple' appeared in 1954, and has been described as Giorgio Bellavitis' finest work for Eagle.

Although The Road of Courage was previously published as a hardback book by Dragon's Dream in 1981, none of the other Eagle bible stories has previously been seen in book form. A future volume of Classic Bible Stories is expected to collect 'The Shepherd King', the story of David, by Clifford Makins and Frank Bellamy, and 'The Great Adventurer', the story of Saul/Paul of Tarsus, by Chad Varah, Frank Hampson (and team) and Norman Williams.

The format of Classic Bible Stories is very similar to Titan's Dan Dare reprint series; ie, 9" x 12" red covered hardback with dustjacket. As with the Dan Dare series, all the strips in Classic Bible Stories are reprinted from scans of Eagle pages. It is well known that most of the original artboards for strips that appeared in Eagle have been lost, destroyed or dispersed to various collectors, so that most Eagle reprint series cannot be from original artwork. However, Dragon's Dream's 1981 offering of The Road of Courage was almost entirely (ie, with the exception of the third page) from the original artboards of that story, and comparison of the two versions is inevitable.

Whether the artboards were not available to the current publishers, or it was an editorial decision not to use them to achieve consistency of quality with the other stories in the series, or for some other reason, this reviewer does not know. Although a close side-by-side comparison with the Dragon's Dream version shows some increase in image contrast and loss of detail due to line thickening in the Titan Books version, the quality of reproduction is as good as the best of their Dan Dare reprint series, ie excellent. An advantage of reproducing the strip from scans of the published comic strip (combined with some careful restoration) is that the result is a close facsimile to the original published edition. A detraction of the Dragon's Dream issue was that new captions had to be created because they were not present on the original boards. Unfortunately, the captions were produced in an unsympathetic type-face, the size of which often was too small for the boxes in which the captions were placed.

Readers of Titan's Dan Dare reprint series might be surprised that, apart from the two stories, the title and credit pages and some brief information provided on the dustjacket, this volume has no further editorial content. It would seem this book has undergone a few changes along the way, meaning that some of the information on the book (eg at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com), indicating feature content, is inaccurate. It would have been nice to have seen the article by Frank Hampson that was published in Eagle when 'The Road of Courage' was first published, describing his trip to the Holy Land and the research that went into the strip.

Although pre-publication pictures emphasise the Eagle legacy by use of the Eagle emblem and the name of Frank Hampson on the cover (with no mention of the other contributors!), neither of these elements are present on the front of the published dustjacket (though Frank Hampson is credited on the book's spine), nor does the Eagle emblem appear anywhere in the book. Presumably the book is aimed at a wider audience than "just" Eagle (or comics) enthusiasts.

Inside full credits are given to the creators of the strips including, on the dustjacket front flap, mention of Frank Hampson's assistant, Joan Porter. The rear dustjacket provides some extremely short biographical information on Marcus Morris, Frank Hampson, Chad Varah and Giorgio Bellavitis.

Classic Bible Stories [ISBN 9781848565258] is published by Titan Books at £14.99.
At the time of posting it was available from Amazon.co.uk at £10.74

1 comment:

Norman Boyd said...

Very good review Will. I liked the comparison to the Dragon's Dream version.

I covered some of this topic in my blog last month (http://frankbellamy.blogspot.com/2010/01/frank-bellamys-reprinted-stories-update.html).