What a nostalgia feast! Rough and ready, yes, often crudely drawn, yes, but the pages of Great British Fantasy Comic Book Heroes will transport the reader to a more innocent age, where costumed crimefighters tackled massively unpleasant and (massively ugly) evildoers in strips that attempted a synthesis of various American comics elements with more enthusiasm than finesse – but with great chutzpah. Clarke and Higgs have explored the fascinating byways of British comics before, and their area of enthusiasm focuses on the periods when colourful American comics were unavailable in the UK (the late 1940s and early 1950s), so enterprising independent British publishers rushed in to supply the need of comic-hungry UK schoolboys with black-and-white homegrown product. The selection here is very eclectic – and often wayward — but don’t imagine that all the material here is lacking in artistic skill (though much of it is) – Britain could boast some remarkable talents, with lashings of invention and artistic panache (not to mention impressive technique): those wonderful illustrators are handsomely represented here: Ron Turner, Denis McLoughlin, Don Lawrence, Ron Embleton. Mike Higgs’ restoration of the original art is of non-pareil quality. It’s possible that Clarke and Higgs might have increased their commercial options by utilising only the really stellar talent mentioned in this list and eschewing the journeymen illustrators of limited skills, but that’s not the editors’ agenda: this a labour of love, attempting to capture a whole era. With its very handsome production values, it’s a book aficionados will lap up.

Barry Forshaw

Great British Fantasy Comic Book Heroes

Phil Clarke & Mike Higgs, editors /Ugly Duckling Press

(limited edition of 100 signed & numbered copies @£75, available post-free from blasebooks@aol.com)

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