The stories of Sir Winston Churchill and General Montgomery
By Frank Bellamy, scripts by Clifford Makins (Dragon’s Dream)
Another shamefully neglected classic of British Comic Strip art is this wonderful biographical series that ran in Eagle from October 4th 1957 until September1958. Originally titled ‘The Happy Warrior,’ the prestigious full-page back cover feature was Bellamy’s first full colour strip. He followed with ‘Montgomery of Alamein’, delivering twice the punch and more revelatory design in two-page colour-spreads.
Churchill himself approved the early strips and was rumoured to have been consulted before the artist began the experimental layouts that transformed him from being merely a highly skilled representational draughtsman into the trailblazing innovator who revolutionized the comic page. He also began the explorations of the use of local and expressionistic colour palettes that would result in the extraordinary ‘Fraser of Africa’ (Eagle Classics: Fraser of Africa ISBN: 0-948248-32-7), ‘Heros the Spartan’ and the legendary ‘Thunderbirds’ strips.
The Churchill story, scripted by Clifford Makins, follows the great man from his early days at Eton through military service in Cuba as a war correspondent, and into politics. Although a large proportion deals with World War II – and in a spectacular, tense and thrilling manner, the subtler skill Bellamy displays in depicting the transition of dynamic, handsome man of action into burly political heavyweight over the weeks is impressive and astonishing. It should be mentioned, though, that this collection doesn’t reproduce the climactic, triumphal last page, a portrait that is half-pin-up, half summation.
Bernard Law Montgomery’s graphic biography benefited from Bellamy’s newfound expertise in two ways. Firstly the page count was doubled, and the artist capitalized on this by producing groundbreaking double page spreads that worked across gutters (the white spaces that divide the pictures) and allowed him to craft even more startling page and panel designs. Secondly, Bellamy had now become extremely proficient in both staging the script and creating mood with colour. This strip is pictorial poetry in motion.
Makins doesn’t hang about either. Taking only three episodes to get from school days in Hammersmith, army service in India and promotion to Brigade Major by the end of the Great War, Monty’s WWII achievements are given full play, allowing Bellamy to create an awesome display of action-packed war comics over the remaining fifteen double paged episodes. There really hasn’t been anything to match this level of quality and sophistication in combat comics before or since.
If you strain you might detect a tinge of post-war triumphalism in the scripts, but these accounts are historically accurate and phenomenally stirring to look at. If you love comic art you should hunt these down, or at least pray that somebody, somewhere has the sense to reprint this work.
©1981 Dragon’s Dream B.V. ©1981 I.P.C. Magazines Ltd.