Comic Book Hero
Pitch Publishing, 2017
Hardback, 224pp, £14.99
Long before t’internet there were comics. From the 60s to the 80s and beyond they were at their peak, the staple of youngsters, a usually weekly treat that enabled us to read stirring tales of space, sport, adventure, war and more. Plus, as time went on more and more factual content came in, features on sports stars, looks behind-the-scenes, and so on, all combining to give a highly illustrated package of entertainment, escapism and news of celebrities. There are titles that will stand out for many – Roy of the Rovers, Eagle, Scream, Tiger – and this book is the narrative of the key figure behind their development in this period. As such it’s not essentially a football book, but it does demonstrate the game’s importance to the lives and reading habits of, in the main, boys at that time. (I’m sure girls did read many of the titles, but they were targeted at boys and, in fact, I can’t recall one mention of girls in the whole book).
Barrie Tomlinson started at the Lion and the Tiger in the 1950s and developed the “Boys Sport and Adventure Department” at IPC, a major magazine publishing company. There’s no doubt he had a great feel for what would be successful, taking Roy of the Rovers from a story in Tiger to his own publication in 1976 as well as bringing success to many other titles. One of the major components of his formula was the use of top sportsmen and women of the day, both with their own columns and as guest features, handing out prizes to competition prize winners, or at events publicising the comics. The book is replete with mentions of how he got on board the likes of Paul Mariner, Geoff Boycott, Jack Charlton, Henry Cooper, Big Daddy etc. And he didn’t confine himself to sports stars, getting endorsements from Ernie Wise, Rod Hull and Emu, Roy Castle and others from “showbiz”. If anything the book is a bit heavy on the author rubbing shoulders and having pictures taken with “celebrities” but it does underline how the titles he was involved with were a mainstream part of popular culture at the time.
Barrie Tomlinson was at the heart of this, bringing in new ideas, branching out himself into writing for more than 20 years the “Scorer” strip in the Daily Mirror, and introducing characters like Hot Shot Hamish, Johnny Cougar, Skid Solo and Fred Baker from “Billy’s Boots”. This is an inside look at what was certainly a publishing phenomenon, and a period in the lives of hundreds of thousands of youngsters, that is well worth remembering.