Dreams in Thin Air


By Michael Magnus Nybrandt & Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen translated by Steffen Rayburn-Maarup (Conundrum Press)
ISBN: 978-1-77262-010-8

Fantastic battles against overwhelming odds and magnificent, unlikely victories are the lifeblood of graphic narratives – and most of our popular fiction these days, I suppose – but seeing such triumphs in our own mundane mortal coil is barely credible in the real world.

Happily, miracles do occur, and one such forms the basis of this stunningly engaging chronicle of a good heart and love of sport defeating the political skulduggery of an oppressive yet publicity-shy superpower.

Delivered as a sturdy and compelling full-colour landscape format hardback, Dreams in Thin Air details the struggle of a young Danish man whose life was changed by a pre-college visit to Tibet: the things he saw and the people he met…

To make the story even more accessible, the man at the centre of events tells his own story, teamed here with Danish comics superstar and educator Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen (Wizards of Vestmannaeyjar, Einherjar) who adds zest, verve and spectacular imagination to the already heady mix…

Following a Foreword by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the story opens near the end as impassioned, frustrated Michael Magnus Nybrandt paces outside the Chinese Embassy in Copenhagen. We don’t know it yet but Michael has gambled years of hard work, devious conniving and soul-destroying dedication on a true long shot…

‘Chapter 1: Towards Tibet’ then takes us back to 1997 when Michael and his friend Thomas land at Lhasa Airport and are only saved from disaster by the quick thinking of Tibetan guide Jamphel Yeshi, who rescues the idealistic Scandinavians from a potentially lethal encounter with bribe-seeking Chinese Guards.

As they ride away from the airport the Europeans observe over and again the brutal results of China’s annexation and systematic eradication of Tibetan culture begun in the aftermath of the 1950 invasion. Of course, the gun-toting occupiers called it an act of “liberation”…

The white boys’ feelings as they contrast the broken relics of a glorious past with the urbanised concrete wastelands inflicted by two generations of self-serving Chinese occupiers are obvious and exceedingly painful, and before long they check out of their state-sponsored hotel and go on a trans-Tibetan tandem ride, looking for the real country…

In ‘The Easy Way’ that joyous if exhausting excursion brings them into constant contact with the earthy, gregarious Tibetans and solidifies a feeling in Michael that he must do something to help them. The revelation of exactly what that might be comes after they arrive at a shattered temple and meet Lama Tsarong.

During their stopover, the Europeans meet young monks in training and discover the Tibetans’ abiding passion for football – the proper “beautiful game” and not the dandified Rugby played by Americans…

Later, Michael endures a bizarre dream in which he is the coach of a Tibetan National Team. That’s clearly an impossible notion. Thanks to China’s political clout and annexation policy, there is no such nation as Tibet, only outlaw enclaves of dispossessed Tibetans living as exiles in well-wishing countries such as India and Nepal.

No politically expedient government on Earth recognises the annexed but unforgotten land and it has no official national standing in any arena… even sports…

In August 1997 Nybrandt returns to Denmark and resumes his education in Aarhus. He is part of the landmark radical education initiative dubbed Kaospilot, but despite all his studies cannot shift his focus away from that vivid dream…

At that time privately-sponsored Kaospilot trained less than 40 students per year in leadership, business design, process design and project design. The private school’s educational philosophy stresses personal development, values-based entrepreneurship, socially-responsible innovation and – above all else – creativity.

Although Michael strives to adapt to the program, eventually he gives in to his obsession and retools his lessons and educational modules to the ultimate goal of creating a Tibetan National Football team and getting them international matches…

And that’s when his problems really begin, as the full political might of the People’s Republic is brought to bear, not just on him but also on Denmark itself. In ‘Dharamsala’ that subtle, silent opposition becomes far more overt, even as Nybrandt tirelessly works with Tibetan bigwigs – in the conquered mountain country itself and throughout the rest of the world.

Undaunted, he sources players, finds sponsors bold enough to buck the Chinese government; sidestepping petty-minded obfuscations like visa-sabotage and rescinded travel permits and even terrifying physical assaults from thinly-disguised political bully boys in China’s pay…

The tide starts to turn in ‘Dharma Player’ after a meeting with the Dalai Lama and the arrangement of an international fixture against Greenland’s national team. With the threat of public legitimisation of a “non-country”, China begins turning the geo-political screws: threatening economic sanctions that might bankrupt Denmark and even more dire unspecified consequences…

On the brink of defeat, Michael thinks furiously and realises that although the prestige of international sport has caused all his problems, it has also provided a once-in-a-lifetime possible solution. All he has to do is confront the Chinese ambassador and not blink first…

The result was a milestone in the modern history of oppressed, subjugated Tibet and resulted in ‘Ninety Minutes of Recognition’ as China was forced to climb down and allow the match to take place…

Being a true story, this gloriously inspirational tale can also offer a photo-reportage-packed ‘Epilogue by the Author’, geographical and socio-political synopsis on the country at ‘The Roof of the World’ and a heartfelt ‘Acknowledgments’ section dedicated to the brave souls who made the miracle happen and brought this book into print.

Compelling, hugely entertaining and astoundingly uplifting, Dreams in Thin Air is a wonderful tribute to the power of sport and the resolve of good people. Don’t wait for the inevitable feelgood movie: read this magnificent graphic testament right now and experience the all-too-rare joy of good intentions triumphing over smugly overwhelming ensconced power…
English Edition © Michael Magnus Nybrandt, Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen and Conundrum Press 2017.

The Rugger Boys volume 2: A Snootful of Style and a Ton of Class!


By Béka & Poupard with colour work by Magali Poli Rivière, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-44-1

Human beings – and apparently a huge variety of our pets and animal housemates – seem obsessed with and revel in chasing balls about. So much so that we/they even apply a range of complex rules to the sheer exhilaration of the process, just to make things more difficult and artificially extend proceedings.

We call it sport and when it’s not hugely thrilling and deadly serious it can be hilariously funny…

Comics over the decades and throughout the world have often mined our obsession with assorted games for secondary entertainment value and this Cinebook compilation proffers more stunning strips starring a dedicated amateur team of French gladiators all painfully enamoured of the manly (and British-originated, let’s not forget) oddball-based pastime called Rugby…

Les Rugbymen was created in 2005 by writing partnership Bertrand Escaich & Caroline Roque under their collaborative nom de plume Béka (Studio Danse, Les Fonctionnaires) in conjunction with self-taught illustrator Alexandre Mermin, who generally labours under the pseudonym Poupard (Chez Gaspard, Les Brumes du Miroboland).

The resulting flurry of short sharp gags and extra-time yarns have filled an even dozen albums thus far. There’s even a junior league spin-off which began in 2010 entitled Les Petits Rugbymen

On va gagner avec le lard et la manière was the fifth Continental encounter but the second (and, thus far, last) translated by Cinebook – probably because it features brief sporting excursions to Scotland and New Zealand – and perfectly recapitulates the passion, toil and sheer testosterone-fuelled idiocy which can warp normally rational folk.

The titular stars are some few dedicated souls faithfully enjoying the trials of club rugby (Union rules, right?) as played by the stalwarts of fictional south-western French side Paillar Athletic Club, affectionately known to their frankly obsessive fans as The PAC

As seen on the introductory page, our bloody but unbowed stars manifest as intellectually compromised Hooker Lightbulb, Herculean Prop Fatneck, precocious ¾ Centre Hugo “The Engineer” Cap, 2nd Row star Freddy “The Anaesthetist” Bones, dashing sex-crazed Back Romeo and Scrumhalf/Captain The Grumpster, all regularly adored and vilified by Bernard FarmerThe Coach – who never lets his barrrrbarous accent get in the way of a good insult or pithy instruction to the dozy slackerrrs…

All you need to know is that these guys are bold, sturdy and love to eat and drink as much as they do trampling each other into the mud every weekend…

The exploits are generally delivered as single page sequences, lavishly, lovingly and outrageously illustrated and jam-packed with snippets of off-kilter slapstick to supplement the main gag and the material. Content is almost everything you’d expect from such a fixture: big beefy blokes in very small towels, lots of booze-fuelled gaffes, eating eccentricities, knob jokes and the mutual sportsmanlike skulduggery which permeates all games Real Men compete in…

This time however equality reigns and there’s a succinct glimpse of the Paillar Athletic Ladies Team too, and you can share the lads’ first turbulent TV appearance too.

Mostly, however, on display is a profusion of smartly-planned running gags and compact comedic gems such as the well-meaning meatheads’ ongoing efforts to help Lightbulb find “love”, Romeo’s constant comeuppances from husbands, boyfriends and employers unhappy with his off-pitch Tries, the woebegone touchline medic’s miserable life and Coach’s eternal battle to whip his band of idiots into a team he can be proud of…

This particular collection kicks off with an extended origin story revealing how the playful imps they once were turned a boring school lesson into a life-changing indoor match and formed sporting bonds that lasted a lifetime…

As previously mentioned, this fixture also includes a brief tour of Scotland, offering a broad belt of new experiences from braw brews to fine foods and bonnie lassies to life-changing injuries, and concludes with a bombastic whistle-stop tour of the Antipodes as The Pac are generously invited to visit the mighty New Zealand All-Blacks at home after the Rugby World Cup concludes…

Mostly though it’s always about mud, mauling, getting stuffed and getting smashed – in every sense of the term…

Fast, furiously funny and splendidly boisterous, these are the kind of cartoon antics that might even inspire dedicated couch-potatoes to get out of the house – unless they order books and dinner online…
© BAMBOO EDITION, 2007 by Béka & Poupard. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Victor: the Best of Alf Tupper – The Tough of the Track


By various anonymous and Peter Sutherland, introduced by Morris Heggie (Prion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-85375-861-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Better than a Boxing Day kick-about… 8/10

If you grew up British anytime after 1960 and read comics you probably cast your eye occasionally – if not fanatically – over DC Thompson’s venerable “Boy’s Paper” The Victor. The Dundee based company has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and its strong editorial stance has informed and influenced a huge number of household names over the decades.

Post-WWII, Victor was very much the company’s flagship title for action and adventure and featured amongst its grittily realistic pantheon of ordinary stars a perpetually grimy, soot-stained, incorrigibly working class sportsman called Alf Tupper; forever immortalised as The Tough of the Track.

Gathered here in another superb hardcover compilation commemorating the truly unique DC Thomson comics experience is a splendid collection of the Running Man’s most impressive exploits, reproduced in the company’s traditional and splendidly evocative two-colour print process.

The main tenet of the Thomson adventure philosophy is a traditional, humanistic sense of decency. Talented and determined distance runner Tupper might be a poor, rough, ill-educated working lad, competing in a world of privileged “Toffee-Nosed Swells”, but he excels for the sheer joy of sportsmanship, not for gain or glory.

He’s the kind of man most decent folk used to want their kids to grow up into…

Hugely friendly, helpful and big-hearted, Alf first appeared in 1949 in a continuing series of prose stories in “Boys Story-Paper” The Rover. He was created by Bill Blaine and the majority of his exploits were written by Gilbert Lawford Dalton with single illustrations by Len Fullerton, Ian McKay, Fred Sturrock, Jack Gordon, George Ramsbottom, Calder Jamieson and James “Peem” Walker.

By the end of the 1950s the publishers were finally accepting that their readers no longer wanted all-prose periodicals, and comic strips were the only way to go. Alf was retooled as just such a pictorial headliner and transferred to The Victor where he persevered until the publication folded. His last appearance was in 1992 in The Sunday Post. He was training for the then-imminent Barcelona Olympics…

Common, rowdy, earthy and perpetually sticking it to the posh-boys who monopolised athletics, Tupper was also one of the greatest distance runners alive and fought prejudice, discrimination, poverty and especially privilege as he won races, medals and accolades.

When he wasn’t running or eating fish and chips, Alf was an accomplished welder in the northern industrial town of Greystone, originally apprenticed to shifty, shiftless Ike Smith before eventually setting up in business for himself.

The lad was all about determination countering ill-fortune, adversity – or even enemy action – and he just hated to be beaten. When he occasionally was, he didn’t dwell on excuses, but resolved to win the rematch…

The True Brit sporting legend apparently had a big influence on the development of many of our actual sporting greats, as seen from the ‘Foreword by Brendan Foster CBE’ and the background-stuffed ‘Introduction by Morris Heggie’ before the profusion of confusingly untitled treats begin – all apparently taken from assorted Victor Book for Boys Christmas Annuals and primarily illustrated by the superb and criminally un-acclaimed Peter Sutherland.

The initial tale finds Alf training in the wee small hours along Greystone’s grimly cobbled streets. As he tells a wary beat copper, he is snatching what time he can because he has a rush job on but still needs to keep in shape for the Fenfield Mile where Olympic hopeful Guy Granger is in competition…

The pace proves just too much and on the day Granger – a typical spoiled rich-boy – just pips Alf at the tape. When they meet again in a record race at White City, the Tough makes certain this race goes his way…

General picture quiz ‘A Question of Sport’ then leads neatly into another epic Tough of the Track tale as Ike ruins Alf’s leisurely trip to London (where he is entered in the 10,000 Metres at the European Championships) by putting his affable apprentice on a rush welding job.

Forced to travel down on a milk train after hours of intense toil, Tupper is suckered by the devious tactics of the Nuroslavian champion Sturmer and has to settle for silver, but when a team-mate competing in the 5,000 Metres is injured, the now-rested Tough gets another shot at a gold medal…

Another time, whilst hitching to a Mile race in Northcastle Alf discusses with the driver how he wants to run against National hope Harold Pilkington, but on arrival finds the devious rich boy refusing to compete. Terrified of being shown up, the sneaky snob is completely unwilling to compete in a fair race but cannot weasel out when Tupper finds employment in his father’s factory just so he can “run him” at the annual Works Sports Day…

When a vagrant wind blows Alf’s fish supper wrappings away from a bin, he falls foul of a litter-crazed policewoman, but later appreciates her stance after he steps on broken glass obscured by trash and is forced to quit running for a fortnight. At least he would have if there wasn’t a race that Saturday…

Now just as obsessed, he spends the rest of his recuperation cleaning up the streets and making litter-louts behave themselves, but almost loses his next race when he stops in the final stretch to pick up paper blown onto the track…

Another last-minute welding job almost ruins his shot at the international “Mile of the Century”. Oddly enough, the much-touted exhibition match is a dull affair because the other three contestants are equally debilitated for various reasons.

With the competitors as disappointed as the fans, Alf’s cheeky suggestion that they all enter for a local amateur Mile near the airport before flying home is met with huge enthusiasm and really pays off the local fans…

One of the most well-regarded Tupper tales follows as the Tough overcomes all manner of pedestrian obstacles in his efforts to race again against mythic Iron Curtain running star Fedor Oranski. When their epic dash at White City resulted in a dead heat the great man invited his young rival to a return match in distant, dangerous totalitarian Rakovia.

After getting his savings out and finagling a visa, the poor oaf is pick-pocketed at the airport and, rather than give in, stows away and enters the dictatorship illegally. Only a fortuitous last-second intervention by Oranski stops our kid ending up in a gulag or worse but at least this time when they run there’s a clear winner…

Tupper’s character and demeanour were again a problem for some people when he was invited to join top British athletes at select training camp Granton Hall. Despite his winning all the time, the snooty trainer – a former naval officer – objected to Alf’s attitude, discipline and apparent lack of team spirit…

It resulted in him being dropped from the official British squad for a major international cross country event, but Alf simply competed as an independent, even though in the days before the race he was hospitalised after saving a man who had crashed his vehicle and become lost in a blizzard…

A few tales have individual story titles. ‘The Winner Came in Eighth’ saw the runner targeted by the unscrupulous trainers of a leading French competitor who initially try to bribe and then simply kidnap Alf in advance of a big international race. This leads to a broadside of humorous sporting facts in ‘Football Fun’ before ‘The Tough of the Team’ finds the working-class hero in contention with an obnoxious American running for Granton Hall who takes an instant dislike to Alf and isn’t above employing dirty tricks to win.

When Tupper is invited to run for the prestigious Old Milocarians against Granton, he has his chance for revenge but almost loses everything when he sacrifices his lead to save an endangered labourer stuck in a smokestack…

The writers were always clever in finding ways to broaden the scope of stories. ‘The Runner from Long Ago’ offers an eerie mystery as Alf’s solitary training regimen finds him seemingly competing against the ghost of a celebrated distance runner from the 19th century after which another ‘A Question of Sport’ picture quiz leads Alf into a different kind of running dilemma as he saves a whippet from being drowned and is then targeted by shady gamblers trying to fix a big race. At one stage they even dope him just as he sets off on a calamitous 1500 metres run at a Miners Sports Meeting…

More ‘A Question of Sport’ segues into to a nasty clash with rich, spoiled running rival Nigel Fenton who tries to hit Alf with his sports-car even as his equally vile father is attempting to fix a traction engine competition. When Alf allies with Colonel Fenton’s most feared opponent, sparks fly, steam explodes and both generations of bad men learn a much deserved lesson…

When the off-his-form Tough of the Track decides to pit himself against French Steeplechase champion Jussac he gets distracted helping a Formula One driver repair his ailing car engine and his own race against the Continental suffers because of it. Soon after, however, Alf hears of an all-comers event in Amsterdam and hitches to Holland in time to do himself proud despite some unhelpful strategic advice from his new motor racing friends…

Rupert Snyke was both rich and a cheat but Alf “ran him” anyway. And when the cad’s dad tried to nobble a rival in a veteran car rally Tupper was on hand to offer a bit of engineering aid and still had time to pip Rupert to the tape in their rematch, after which one final bout of snob-bashing occurs when Alf travels to France for an all-comers event and stands in for an injured friend at an “It’s a Knockout” style competition of crazy games.

All that whacky merriment and non-standard training stands him in good stead when wild weather threatens to wash out the proper athletics match though…

With the strip dramas concluded everything wraps up with a brace of intellectual exercises as ‘Sports Quiz’ and the photo-packed ‘Alf Tupper’s Athletics Quiz’ test the readers’ memories. This is a wonderfully accessible slice of truly British nostalgia and a certain delight for every fan of sportsmanship and great comics.
VICTOR™ and © D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2012. Associated text, characters and artwork © D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2012. All rights reserved.

The Rugger Boys volume 1: Why Are We Here Again?


By Béka & Poupard with colour work by Sylvain Frecon & Murielle Rousseau, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-33-5

Human beings – and apparently a huge variety of our pets and animal housemates – seem obsessed with and are delighted by chasing balls about. So much so that we/they even apply a range of convoluted sets of rules to the sheer exhilaration of the process, just to make things more difficult and artificially extend proceedings.

We call it sport and when it’s not hugely thrilling and deadly serious it can be hilariously funny…

Comics over the decades and throughout the world have often mined our obsession with assorted games for secondary entertainment value and this Cinebook compilation gathers a fine bunch of strips starring a dedicated amateur team of French gladiators all painfully enamoured of the manly (and British-originated) ball-based pastime called Rugby…

Les Rugbymen: was created in 2005 by writing partnership Bertrand Escaich & Caroline Roque under their collaborative nom de plume Béka (Studio Danse, Les Fonctionnaires) in conjunction with self-taught illustrator Alexandre Mermin, who generally labours under the pseudonym Poupard (Chez Gaspard, Les Brumes du Miroboland).

The resulting flurry of short sharp gags and yarns have filled an even dozen albums thus far. There’s even a junior league spin-off which began in 2010 entitled Les Petits Rugbymen

On n’est pas venus pour être là! was the third Euro-volume but the first to be translated by Cinebook – probably because it features a brief sporting tour of England – and perfectly encapsulates the passion, toil and sheer testosterone-idiocy which can warp normally rational folk.

Our stars are a few dedicated souls faithfully enjoying the trials of club rugby (and that’s Rugby Union, right?) as played by the stalwarts of fictional south-western French town side Paillar Athletic Club, affectionately known to their frankly obsessive fans as The PAC…

As seen on the introductory page, the usual suspects generally manifest as intellectually compromised Hooker Lightbulb, Herculean Prop Fatneck, 2nd Row star The Anaesthetist, dashing sex-crazed Back Romeo and Scrumhalf/Captain The Grumpster, all regularly adored and vilified by The Coach who never lets his speech defect get in the way of a good insult to the dozy slackerrrs…

All you need to know is that these guys are bold, sturdy and love to eat and drink as much as they do smashing each other into the mud…

The exploits are generally delivered as single page sequences, lavishly, lovingly and outrageously illustrated and jam-packed with snippets of off-kilter slapstick to supplement the main gag and the material. Content is almost everything you’d expect from such a fixture: big beefy blokes in very small towels, lots of booze-fuelled gaffes, eating eccentricities, knob jokes and the mutual sportsmanlike skulduggery which permeates all games Real Men compete in…

However also on display are a profusion of smartly-planned running gags and little comedic gems such as the well-meaning meatheads’ ongoing efforts to help Lightbulb find “love”, Romeo’s constant comeuppances from husbands, boyfriends and employers unhappy with his off-pitch conquests and The Coach’s eternal battle to whip his band of idiots into a team he can be proud of…

As previously mentioned, this collection also contains a wry, preconception/prejudice-confirming international excursion when The PAC accept an offer to play a friendly match against British college side Camford. As well as a chance to pummel the despised English, there’s the promise of seeing a Six Nations match to offset the unbearable pain of living on the foreigners’ appalling food and pathetic beer…

Fast, furiously funny and splendidly boisterous, these are the kind of cartoon antics that might even inspire dedicated couch-potatoes to get out of the house – unless they order books and dinner online…
© BAMBOO EDITION, 2006 by Béka & Poupard. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers


By Tom Tulley & David Sque (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576948-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Next Best Thing to Actually Being There… 9/10

Every Christmas I recommend what I consider to be some of the best new comics-related books on the market as presents, but that’s actually doing a great disservice to material that whilst not new might well be even more welcome as a treat for fans or better yet people who have left comics long behind them.

In a spirit of near-toxic nostalgia then, here’s a notionally old item – although still readily available through online dealers – which might delight British boys and girls of a certain age…

There was a time when British comics reflected the interests of a much broader proportion of our youthful population, and when adults kept their fascination with picture strips a closely guarded secret. Now that it’s actually cool to read graphic narratives, one of the nation’s greatest heroes – sporting, as well as comic related – should be making a proper comeback any day now.

Roy of the Rovers started life on the front cover of Tiger, a brand-new weekly anthology comic published by Amalgamated Press (later IPC and Fleetway Publications) and launched on September 11th 1954.

The “Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly” was a cannily crafted companion to Lion, Amalgamated’s successful response to Hulton Press’ mighty Eagle (home of Dan Dare), but from the kick-off Tiger concentrated heavily on sports stars and themes, with issue #1 also featuring The Speedster from Bleakmoor, Mascot of Bad Luck and Tales of Whitestoke School amongst others. In later years racing driver Skid Solo and wrestler Johnny Cougar joined more traditional, earthy strips such as Billy’s Boots, Nipper, Hotshot Hamish and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, but for most of its 1,555-issue Tiger was simply the comic with Roy of the Rovers. Such was his cachet that he starred in his 37 of own Christmas Annuals between 1958 and 2000.

Roy was created by Frank S. Pepper who used the pseudonym Stewart Colwyn, and drawn by Joe Colquhoun (who inherited it when he took over scripting the feature) after which it was written by Tiger’s Editor Derek Birnage (credited to “Bobby Charlton” for a couple of years), with additional tales from Scott Goodall and Tom Tully.

In 1975 Roy became player-manager and the following year graduated to his own weekly comic, just in time for the 1976-77 season, premiering on September 25th and running for 855 issues (ending March 20th 1993).

Roy Race started as a humble apprentice at mighty Melchester Rovers, and gradually rose to captain the first team. After many years of winning all the glories the beautiful game could offer, he settled down to live the dream: wife, kids, wealth, comfort and triumphant adventure every Saturday…

During the first decade of the 21st century Titan Books released a number of compilations starring the ageless sporting ace and one of the most impressive was a selection of material taken from many of those early aforementioned Roy of the Rovers Annuals, cunningly presented as a sturdy hardback which perfectly mimicked those beloved end-of-year treats…

This splendid specimen of nostalgic imposture perfectly resembles those Bumper British books and is stuffed with a selection of the very best strips, prose stories, games, quizzes and features culled from them. The editors have also wisely included ads from the period to better inculcate a flavour of those bygone times.

My only quibble is that the strips and features are all anonymous, so we’ll be labouring under my far from specialised assumptions when apportioning credit. Amongst the likeliest candidates are Colquhoun, acclaimed sports strip artist Paul Trevillion (Hey Ref! and You Are the Ref), plus any number of freelancers who specialised in the Annuals’ production and a selection of cruelly unknown Spanish and South American illustrators who freelanced for British publishers during the 1960s.

The contents kick off with a splendid hark back to simpler times as ‘Meet the Rovers’ – from the 1960 Annual – introduces the doughty 14-man squad in full process colour, and a beautiful painted frontispiece entitled ‘Heads to It!’, by Van from 1959, precedes the kick-off for an untitled ‘Roy of the Rovers’ yarn from 1957 wherein Roy is forced to drastic action after changing room dissent turns into a disastrous vendetta on the field.

Originally published in the 1962 Annual ‘The Rebel Who Made Good’ is a prose yarn, with monochrome spot illustrations by a continental artist sadly unknown to me, revealing how a spate of thuggish vandalism leads Roy to signing a few apprentice stars, promptly followed by light-hearted factual cartoon strip ‘Could You Pass a Kit Inspection?’ (1964), a full colour commemoration of the Beautiful Game’s contemporary glittering prizes in ‘Silver Trophies for Super Teams’ (1962) and a paralysingly nostalgia-drenched ad for the Action Man™ Footballer with kit of your choice…

More thinly-veiled strip-style fact-features follow as ‘Meet Trainer Taff Morgan’ (1960) gives a candid glimpse at the work behind the scenes, ‘Great Goalgetters of Yesterday’ (1962) offers brief bios of halcyon superstars before ‘If You Were the Ref…’ (1962) poses and answers the kind of conundrums which keep fans arguing from Saturday to Saturday…

More evocative ads precede a colour account of the stellar career of ‘“Bombshell Bobby”: the Bobby Charlton Story’ – and this was only up to 1961 – before a Dinky Toys commercial segues into ‘Roy’s Soccer Quiz’ (1962) and a relatively late sci-fi tinged monochrome comic adventure wherein the entire team are kidnapped by a bizarre boffin intent on building footballing robots in ‘The Man Who Stole the Rovers’ (1969)…

The sporting gags of ‘Touch-line Fun’ (1965) lead merrily into a revelatory full-colour sneak peek in ‘Take a Tour Round Melchester Stadium with Roy Race as Your Guide’ (1958) and a classic anti-smoking ad by the legendary Brian Lewis, after which another illustrated text tale details a potential mutiny when management hires an Army PT Instructor in ‘Rovers on Parade’ (1966).

In stark black and white ‘Roy Explains the Offside Law’ (1960, and about time somebody did…) before a splash of colour signals ‘Roy Invites You to Come Special Training’ (1960) and ‘All Sorts of “Football”’ (1959) details exotic ball game from around the world.

Another ad break then leads into more sparkling colour fact-features including ‘Wembley, Captains, Clubs and Continental Colours’ and ‘Footer Giants of Foreign Teams’ (all 1960), whilst monochrome is sufficient for ‘“Penalty!”: Facts About Spot-Kicks’ (1958) and a photo-feature on technological advances in ‘Soccer Machines’ (1966).

After drooling wistfully over Corgi Rockets (no longer available at any good toy shop) you can ‘Learn to Play the Roy Race Way’ (1960) before prose thriller ‘Bandit Hunters’ (1959) sees the team held to ransom whilst on a tour of the Pyrenees, whilst – after mulling over stamps for your collection or opting to join the Army Cadets – an untitled

‘Roy of the Rovers’ strip from 1971 reveals how the ace goal-scorer deals with accusations of collusion with a bent referee…

Wrapping up the armchair time-travel is a crucial ‘Answers Page: Don’t Look Now’ and

‘F.A. Cup Fight Record’ (1969) plus one last fact-feature revealing that even in 1961 ‘Soccer Stars Cost Fortunes’ before the final whistle blows with a gorgeous full-colour ‘Roy Race’s Score-A-Goal Game’ from the 1958 Annual (dice and counters not included) to complete that feeling that the Good Old Days really were…

Beautifully and respectfully restored and packaged, this is a splendid slice of memorable fun which hits home with stunning force. So why not get yours Before Saturday Comes…
Roy of the Rovers © Egmont UK Ltd 2008.