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Saturday, 27 September 2008

In Review: Eagle Annual Of The Cutaways

Review by Jeremy Briggs

After last year's uninspiring Eagle Annual: The Best Of The 1950s Comic, its sequel Best of the 1960s Comic has been put on hold to 2009 and this year's offering from Orion is the unwieldily entitled The Eagle Annual Of The Cutaways edited by Daniel Tatarsky.

This is has been a book I have been looking forward to since it was announced as my favourite part of original Eagle is not Dan Dare but the cutaways, all the better if they are by Leslie Ashwell-Wood and best when they are military aircraft. So, after opening the book to find that the frontispiece was six cutaways taken from the original artwork and beginning with a Royal Navy Supermarine Attacker jet being launched from an aircraft carrier... well things couldn't have started better. Indeed, there are eighteen cutaways at the beginning and end of the book taken from the original art boards with no published text other than the circular numbers which Eagle fans know were painted onto the artwork.

Despite them being trimmed at either end due to their length, they are superb reproductions.

After an introduction by Colin Frewin, the chief executive of the Dan Dare Corporation, in which he dedicates the book to the artists who created the cutaways, there is an introduction by Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian's architecture critic. After an unfortunate slip in his second sentence when he names "the world's best boy's comic" as Eagle Cutaways, he tries to place the comic in its historical perspective and compares its optimistic vision of the future with today's reality.

Unfortunately when he describes the idea of setting Dan Dare's Space Fleet HQ in Formby on the Lancashire coast as being "simply very funny", that a "shopping mall, yes, a centre for engineering, design, military and scientific excellence, don't be daft..." he obviously is unaware that such a centre is barely five miles from Formby at Warton where English Electric designed, manufactured and flew the Canberra bomber in those early days of Eagle and where, today, BAE Systems are doing the same for its modern equivalent, the Typhoon.

What little information there is here on the artists, bar a mention of him having had "tentative dealings" with cutaway artist John Batchelor, appears to show that he has read Steve Holland's biography of Leslie Ashwell-Wood on Bear Alley and Will Grenham's piece on the cutaway artists on Eagle-Times, yet he neglects to mention by name over two thirds of those artists, including many whose work appears in the book.

The book then launches into the cutaways in (mainly) all their original printed glory with concerns expressed previously on downthetubes about reformatting being thankfully unfounded. Beginning (strangely) with a bin lorry, various cars, fire engines, missiles, planes and spaceships follow with the original 1950s landscape style of cutaway printed mainly two to a page. Some are a little on the dark side but then the original printing of them in the early days of Eagle could be, too.

Perhaps the most interesting of these are the futuristic ones which include Ashwell-Wood's version of a Channel Tunnel on pages 48 and 49 and Gordon Davies' 10000mph Atomic Airliner on pages 54 and 55.

The 1950s style cutaways are replaced by the 1960s single page style from page 130 onwards. Here, the cutaway style changes made in the Eagle, as the comic went downhill in the mid to late 1960s, are evident as they lose their colour and some are even incorporated into text features. Yet they are still interesting, with two different cutaways of Concorde by Ashwell-Wood and, perhaps the most unusual of the 1960s batch, a hover truck spraying a ploughed field by Geoffrey Wheeler.

However, I can't tell you which page it is on because by this point, the book has abandoned its page numbering, which is one of the greatest drawbacks of the book. With no page numbers on most of the last third of the book, there is no way of indexing the illustrations and so no attempt has been made. While they may be in a vague chronological order between the 1950s and the 1960s, there aren't even any themes to the book where, for example, all the cars are together. As a consequence, there is no easy way of finding any given illustration in the book's 180-odd pages.

There are other issues with it too. Bizarrely the Amphicar, a good cover choice as it is a very unusual vehicle, is not actually featured in the book, while at the beginning, when attempting to explain how difficult such art is to draw Tartarsky condescendingly tells us "easy-peasy it is not". Strangely the text on the one artist he knows a little about, John Batchelor, refers the reader to a Roy Cross cutaway on the same page rather than the Batchelor art on the opposite page, while the two page spread of Televising The Coronation Procession has been folded and so does not show the entire image.

Perhaps the most annoying thing for fans of the original comic will be the lack of any attempt to date the art to the issue of the comic it came from. Although a few of the 1960s pages retain their dates this is more by good fortune than by design.

In general, the book comes across as being done in a hurry for a mass market. Yet how much better could it have been if a little more time had been spent on it with the addition of page numbers, an index, issue dates and, considering that some of them are still alive, a list of the names of the artists that the book was dedicated to.

That said, if you are just buying the book for the art then it is a good purchase: but if you are buying the book as reference for the artists or their work, you will be disappointed.

1 comment:

Tony Woolrich said...

I agree with all the points raised above. There is no mention of Walkden Fisher, though his fish logo appears on a number of the drawings.

A number of the drawings have resonances with drawings Ashwell Wood had made for various war-time Odhams books. The Primrose Hill junction [p 121-121] and the hump marshalling yard, pp100-101 both feature in *The Worlds Railways and How They Work*, (1948). In turn the Odhams book drawings were sometimes re-workings of drawings that had appeared in *Modern Wonder* in the late 1930s.

Jonathan Clancy's introduction has some interesting insights, particularly concerning the fact that interest in this kind of art fizzled out in the 1960s.

This neglect is reflected now in general publishing of books about engineering and technology for young people. There were numerous writers active from about 1900 starting with Archibald
Williams, and then Ellison Hawks. The 30s saw the four part works edited by Clarence Winchester

There was the fine Odhams series during the second World War. and a number of other books until the 60s

The genre does not appear at all in modern academic studies of children's books.

Information about writers and artists is very sparse indeed.

The genre really needs scholarly investigation.

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