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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Classic Bible Stories from The Eagle

44-Road-of-Courage.jpgSome of Britain’s finest English comics artists of all time, including Frank Hampson (co-creator of Dan Dare) and Frank Bellamy (creator of Heros the Spartan and one of the key artists on another comic, TV Century 21) also produced strips for the classic British comic Eagle based on stories from the Bible.

I'm pleased to report that Titan Books is collecting these stories for the first time ever in collector editions of Classic Bible Stories - the first book edited by myself on sale now, produced with more than a little help from David Leach and the rest of the Titan Books team, and Spaceship Away's Dez Shaw, the latter doing all the scans of the comics pages. This volume comprises Frank Hampson’s critically-acclaimed Road of Courage, the life story of Jesus, and Mark: The Youngest Disciple, drawn by Giorgio Bellavitis.

A second volume, comprising The Shepherd King (written by Clifford Makins and drawn by Frank Bellamy) and The Great Adventurer, the story of Saint Paul (written by Chad Varah, drawn by Frank Hampson) is scheduled for Easter 2011.

Jesus head used as reference for Road of Courage by Frank HampsonWhile planned background feature material - including images of the sculpted head of Jesus Hampson used as reference, right) - was dropped from the publication, the strips themselves, I think, speak for themselves and Dez's scans are superb given the age of the source material.

The Road of Courage (Credited as being written by Marcus Morris and drawn by Frank Hampson) ran in Eagle from Volume 11, issue 12 to Volume 12, issue 14 (19/03/60 – 08/04/61) and comprises 56 episodes. Told in a way that focuses on the human rather than the miraculous or religious, it features every major incident in the biblical life of Jesus including the flight from Egypt, Jesus’ early life (based on apochryphal gospels), Jesus’ fights against the Pharisees, Palm Sunday, throwing the money lenders out of the temple, the Last Supper and Jesus carrying the cross and rising from the dead.

The Road of Courage has only been published in a collection once before (in 1981, by Dragon’s Dream) as The Road of Courage – The Story of Jesus of Nazareth. It was also published in Dutch and French. That collection is long out of print and commands a considerable premium on ebay etc. when copies are for sale.

Mark, The Youngest Disciple (Written by Chad Varah the founder of the Samaritans, who died in 2007 and drawn by Giorgio Bellavitis (who died very recently, see Bear Alley for more details) ran in Eagle from volume 5, issue 46 to volume 6, issue 26 (12/11/54 – 01/07/55) over 34 episodes. The timeframe over which this tale is told is different from every other normal back page Eagle “True Life” story. Normally, they covered a lifetime but in the case of Mark, the tale spans just over seven weeks, from Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) until Whit Monday (seven weeks after Easter). Even then, most of the action takes place on just a few days.

The story is based around Mark rushing around Jerusalem getting into scrapes as he follows Jesus through this momentous time in Jesus’s life, opening with the Last Supper before moving quickly to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It features the trial of Jesus, setting Barabbas free, Jesus carrying the cross, his rising from the dead, the founding of the Christian church and the first baptisms, ending with Peter agreeing to let Mark work with him as a missionary.

Hampson's Road of Courage is a superb piece of work, his art the inspiration for an upcoming animated feature based on the story from Bill Melendez Productions; and Mark, The Youngest Disciple is, for me, a gem well deserving of republication, drawn by a fine Italian artist who went on to become a world-renowned architect. I hope you'll give it a try.


By Frank Hampson, Marcus Morris, Chad Varah, Giorgio Bellavitas

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