This is the second time I've read this book. The first time was just after it came out in 1985. With the passage of time I can't quite remember what IThis is the second time I've read this book. The first time was just after it came out in 1985. With the passage of time I can't quite remember what I thought of it back then, but I guess there's an unconscious reason I've left it over thirty years to read it again (and truth be told, I'm not sure I would have re-read it unless prompted by a correspondence with a comics expert and cartoonist who was around at the time that the Eagle was originally published, and who had actually worked on the title). As you can see from the rating I've given it, I didn't think much of it this time around.
I have several problems with this book, but the main one is this: Crompton is unbelievably patronising in his attitude towards comics in general, and particularly any that come from foreign climes. In his mind, the only decent comics ever created were British ones, and most of those were rubbish too in his view—he's particularly scathing about American horror comics and British humour comics. In fact, the only comics that escape his offhanded dismissal, are those by Frank Hampson and his studio. I know that Hampson was the subject of this book, but even so, this is breathtaking parochialism. A passage that stood out to me in particular (and caused a sharp intake of breath) was this gem:
"Modern publishers say that the original Eagle would be a laughing stock today, old-fashioned and out of its time. I think the claim is nonsense, but be that as it may. The reason there isn't a publication for kids of the same calibre today, is because there aren't the men to create it. The Society of Strip Illustrators [sic] will tell you they can find the men to create it. But they don't. And they don't because they can't. And they can't, not because (as they believe) modern-day publishers are massed against them, but because they aren't clever enough. That's not a criticism(!); who can blame them for not being the best in the world?"
Aside from the sexist attitude enshrined in that passage (which is doubly infuriating seeing as Hampson had at least three female assistants at different times, all of whom were excellent artists), it sums up Crompton's absurd attitude. Look, to be sure, Hampson was a fine cartoonist--but the best in the world? Not even close.
The other area where, for me, this book falls down is in its discussions of Hampson's studio. Too often we're told that Hampson would draw that week's entire strip in "rough" form, and then turn the roughs over to his talented team of assistants to work up into the finished article. In this he was no different to cartoonists such as Hergé or Tezuka, but we're never really given a breakdown of who did what aside from some vague descriptions of the working practices of the studio. Crompton also dips into the politics of the studio, but shies away from really explaining the dynamics of studio life especially in light of Crompton's repeated assertions of Hampson's hands-on approach and attitude to working hours.
This last point leads on to another problem I have with the book, but one that's not necessarily down to Crompton—not entirely, anyway; everyone in the book, with the possible exception of Hampson's assistants, aren't shown as being the most sympathetic of characters. Hampson himself comes across as a depressive workaholic with no real business skills and a tendency to whine when things don't go his way (which they don't. Frequently), Marcus Morris is revealed as somewhat conniving and more than willing to feather his own nest at the expense of others, while taking the majority of the credit for the Eagle and its success, the people in charge of comics publishing at that time are portrayed as clueless, envious and of a Machiavellian character, and the rest of the supporting 'cast' are either cyphers or not mentioned at all. Now while I don't doubt that all of these people had their fallible, darker sides, there's no real nuance in Crompton's descriptions of them, and so they all come across as somewhat one-dimensional—rather ironic given Crompton's position on the output of the comics at the time.
Add to this the multiple typographical errors, and the small number of factual errors that crept into the book, and I really can't recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about one of Britain's most celebrated comics and the people who made it. A great shame, as it's a fascinating time in British comics history, and I'm sure a more even-handed approach would have paid many dividends.
I understand that Crompton himself wasn't happy with this book and substantially re-wrote it several years later. I'd very much like to read that updated version and compare with this one. Maybe in a few years time, but hopefully not thirty!...more
Bloody marvellous. Paul Gravett has cemented his position as the main man in UK comics scholarship with this wonderful book. It's probably best descriBloody marvellous. Paul Gravett has cemented his position as the main man in UK comics scholarship with this wonderful book. It's probably best described as a primer for those who know very little about comics, but I've been involved in comics one way or another from the vast majority of my life, and I still learnt a thing or two.
As befitting the "Man at the Crossroads" of comics (as Eddie Campbell memorably called him), Gravett hasn't just focused on Anglo-American comics, but instead has widened his approach to the entire world of comics, including wordless comics and new technologies like digital & e-comics. This gives the reader a far more rounded introduction than the book's size would initially suggest—and here we have to thank Peter Stanbury, the book's designer, for fitting in so much information but without compromising the book's utility, cohesiveness and attractiveness.
It's a whistlestop tour to be sure, but but if there's a better introduction to the world of comics and how they work, I've yet to see it. Highly recommended....more