Saturday, February 02, 2013

Cartoons & Comic Strips Review

Cartoons & Comic Strips is the autobiography of Terry Bave, published earlier this year. If you're not familiar with him, he's been working in the British comics industry since the late 1960s. I don't believe much of his work's been shipped out beyond the UK, although I seem to recall him mentioning at least some of it made it over to France. In any event, he's been working almost non-stop in British comics since he started contributing regular features -- originally uncreditted -- to the likes of Dandy and Beano among a host of other similar titles.

Once he got into the field, Bave's life as a cartoonist seems to pretty closely align with the British comics industry as a whole. In the boom years, he had so much work that some of the strips he created got picked up by other artists and editors kept asking him to come up with more ideas. In lean years, he wound up hopping from title to title as they got canceled out from under him. Though technically a freelancer, he seems to have had almost full-time employment from just a handful of publishers for his whole career. There was even a period of about a year (I can't seem to find the anecdote offhand to verify the timeframe) where he had to stop drawing as a result of some eye problems, but once that was taken care of, his old editors welcomed him back and had him up and running again in no time! I don't know if that type of relationship between editors and freelancers was common in British comics at the time, or if Bave was just particularly well-ensconced thanks to his incredibly up-beat attitude but, either way, I don't think you'd run into many instances of that happening in American comics today!

Even though I wasn't familiar with Bave's work prior to reading this, it was a very insightful look at how the British comic industry worked over the years. The focus is obviously from Bave's perspective, but he talks about how he and his wife (his frequent co-writer) worked, how comics voting worked, how he interacted with editors, how he interacted with schoolchildren as a local celebrity... As I said, Bave's career seems to closely follow the industry's at large. And though he largely stays in the realm of "kids' comics" without getting into the Judge Dredd/Dan Dare/Miracleman ouvre, he does note some of the challenges he faced as those types of comics became more popular.

The actual writing of the book is decent. A bit casual and conversational, but I think that fits given Bave's career. The one bit that struck me as a little odd was that he mostly relays everything chronologically beginning in 1967. But then, he diverges back to his childhood and early life for Chapter Six before picking up in Chapter Seven where he'd left off in Chapter Five. It's of course possible to pull that kind of flip-flopping around off, but it didn't flow very well here. If he'd move Chapter Six to the start, I think work just fine.

There's plenty of his artwork throughout the book as well. Some of his published work, some sketches, some spot character illustrations. And they generally all fit well with what he's talking about, so you get a sense of the characters and types of humor that he was actually using when he refers to Draculass or Odd-Ball. It looks like most of the art is scanned from his originals, though several of the older published pieces are clearly scanned from printed copies. They're all completely legible and are decent scans, but I personally would've liked to see a bit more digital clean-up work done on those older pieces so they popped off the page a little more.

Bave seems to be mostly retired now (he's in his 80s, after all) but clearly looks back on his career in comics as a really enjoyable one. With as much nastiness as I often see in the comics industry -- from petty online bickering to the seemingly never-ending legal fights stemming from two Cleveland kids getting shafted back in 1938 -- it's refreshing to see someone who can look back at a nearly half-century long career and not say a bad thing about it.

Cartoons and Comic Strips is available as a print-on-demand book from Lulu for $23.75.

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