Return of the Rocket: The Titan Interview
With the sad passing of Euro 2008 (and the resultant football famine) some of you may have slipped (wailing and gnashing your teeth) into a slough of despond. If so, then dry your eyes and take heart. I have news that may cheer thee.
After years spent idling on the sidelines (or wandering the football wilderness) a legend of the game is lacing up his boots once more. Toni Polster? Nein. Tony Grealish? Sadly no…but someone even more exciting (if such a thing were possible). Roy Race – the most gifted lefty ever to grace the game – is back in print (courtesy of Titan Books) and riding high on a British comic reprint wave.
The first volume of this improbable (but most welcome) revival – The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s – has already been released, and even now sits happily on my shelves. To tell us more about the present and future of this noble project I turned to David "My Pal at Titan" Leach (his official handle is "Graphic Novels Editor" or some such). Here follows a brief interview (me in bold).
Can you give us an idea of the process that lead to these reprints being given the green light?
Actually I can't. The Roy of the Rovers deal was green-lit before my time. I was just handed the entire Roy project on my first day at Titan and told to do my worst.
Was much of the original art available to you or were you relying on scans from the comics themselves?
Unfortunately we have no access to any original artwork, what little survives is in the hands of private collectors. (In fact I found a stack at a local comic mart going for as little as £35 a pop, all drawn by David Sque and I've got details if anyone's interested?)
Instead we're making use of the Egmont bound comic archive and the incredible collection of Mark Towers, who runs the official Roy of the Rovers website and has one of the only complete collections of Roy in the world.
Oh absolutely, there is certainly a demand for reprints of the 'classic' British comics of the 70′s & 80′s. There's a real nostalgia for the comics of my generation's youth and I think there's going to be some very excited Brit comic fans filling their shelves with Titan books in the coming years.
The Commando/Eagle publications seem aimed more at the impulse-buying/novelty gift market. With Roy, however, Titan seems to be catering for both the casual fan (with the "Best of.." publications) as well as the more serious collector/enthusiast (with the chronological volumes). Can you tell us a bit more about the decision to present the reprints in this way?
I think what Titan does well is to understand the market for books. With Roy it was decided that, as a franchise, it could support 3 different titles, each with its own unique style and branding. The Best of, The Archive and The Bumper.
The Archive will showcase Roy's entire football career in books marked as seasons starting with his debut 1959 season. It'll have a commentary as well as "making of" features – the book equivalent of a DVD bonus disc. The book will also have a dust jacket and is aimed more at the collector.
The Best of will showcase a couple of season's worth of action from the 70′s, 80′s & 90′s. Of the three books this will be the most 'magazine-like' with a flexi-cover and no new material bar an introduction. For the first book I managed to secure a foreword by Gary Lineker and for the 2nd 80′s book which I'm hoping to call Best of the 1980s: The Rematch! we've got Frank Skinner. W.H. Smiths are pushing it as a perfect Father's Day present.
And I'm hoping that's exactly the sort of person who buys it. Dads who remember Roy from their youth. I'm amazed at the number of 40 year old men I've mentioned Roy to who actually get misty eyed and excited at the prospect of a Roy book and these men aren't your traditional comic fans. It's easy to forget that Roy is an institution.
And finally, The Bumper Book of Roy, which will be our Christmas book. It's going to feature a selection of the best strips, articles, vintage quizzes and stories taken from the Roy and Tiger annuals dated from 1957 – 1972. I like to imagine that come Christmas morning, little boys and their dads are going to be lying on the floor surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper deeply engrossed in their preferred annuals.
Does the popularity of such titles suggest any resurgence in the British "adventure/sport comic" market or are reprints all we are likely to continue seeing for the foreseeable future? (In other words, is there any chance of a new RotR title?)
Not from us, no. Titan acquired the rights to reprint Roy's entire back catalogue which don't forget is 39 years long! That's going to be a lot of books so I'm going to be very busy and very old by the time it's all over.
Why (do you think) were decent British comic reprints so slow in appearing until comparatively recently? Was it solely a rights issue?
I suppose because no one, apart from Titan, knew that the demand existed. I think Titan lead the way with their reprint books and the wider publishing world is now frantic to join the club. It's probably the best time in history to be a comics fan, particularly a British comics fan.
But I don't think it has anything to do with rights issues. Companies who own these old characters are always eager to open them up to new markets and since many of them no longer produce comic strips it's up to specialist publishers like Titan to approach and make them offers they can't refuse.
The period covered in the first reprint, The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s, coincides with the tenure of this blog's old pal David Sque. Many Roy fans would feel that Sque's period in charge (of the art) was something of a "Golden Age" for the story. Do you agree, and, if so, why do you think that was the case?
It's the era everybody remembers and identifies with, and David Sque's version of Roy is the definitive version – right down to the girly mullet. David's artwork seems synonymous with Roy. I know it's what I see when I close my eyes.
This period of Roy's career was filled with high drama and action on and off the pitch. It was the era of Dallas and Roy mirrored this. His stories weren't just about football, the reader got involved with his home life, his struggles with running the club, him battling adversity and injury and lets not forget the terrorist car bombing or assassin's bullet (life was never dull for Roy, except for that dreadful summer when he played cricket!). There was also a continuity to the strip unlike anything ever seen before or since. Roy of the Rovers was a single continuous 39 year long adventure told in football seasons.
Also, I think David's artwork brought a highly believable reality to the strip. With a regular artist, the reader gets used to his style and it becomes second nature to them – and as a result they can get more involved in the stories, which in my opinion are paramount. If the story doesn't work, it doesn't matter how good the artwork is, it's going to be quickly forgotten. And Roy's popularity is down to great artwork and a great script.
Given that Titan have acquired rights to some of the Egmont back catalogue, can we expect any other titles to be reprinted in the near future? Can you give us an idea of the timetable for the various Roy releases?
Next up for Roy in 2008 will be the Bumper Book followed by the first Archive edition.
In 2009, Titan will be unleashing both The Best of Battle and The Best of Action. Followed by Special collected editions of Sgt Easy, Johnny Red and Rat Pack (and that’s not even mentioning classic newspaper strips).
Finally, who shot Roy again? I can't remember…
I always get this wrong. All know is it was one of the following, they all have an axe to grind with Roy and they've all publicly threatened him with violence!
So take your pick from -
Vic Guthrie – disgruntled fellow team mate.
Arthur Logan – furious father of Melchester's new striker, Kenny Logan.
Elton Blake – angry out of work actor.
Arnie Meckiff – Roy's wheeler dealer cousin.
Trevor Brinsden – Melchester Rover's Uber-fan.
For what it's worth. My money's on Colonel Peacock in the kitchen with the lead-pipe. But for the full answer you're just going to have to buy the book and find out yourself!
As highlighted by David (and echoed over on Steve Holland's terrific Bear Alley) the "Soap Opera" qualities of early/mid 80s RotR are a large part of what makes this period so fondly remembered. Realising that liberal doses of tragedy and failure are just those elements that make sporting happy endings all the sweeter (and more welcome), Roy scribe Tom Tully loaded the 2 year run collected here with shocking twists and turns to beat the band. Melchester Rovers find themselves relegated, the Races' marriage hits the rocks, and (most dramatically of all) Roy follows J R Ewing's lead and gets himself shot. Of course, it all ends in David Sque's distinctive broad smiles, but the road to that cheery conclusion was a compellingly rocky one.
Something often remarked upon (by meself and others), is how the RotR world exists in a twilight zone straddling outright fantasy and "real world" reality. Thus, while all the teams in the league(s) Melchester compete in are entirely fictional (Burndean, Danefield, Walford etc), figures like Alf Ramsey (caretaker Rovers manager after Roy gets shot) and events like the Charles & Diana wedding are frequently referenced and depicted. This tendency toward curious crossovers was to reach its questionable zenith (or nadir?) with the the arrival (in Melchester colours) of Spandau Ballet, Emlyn Hughes and Bob Wilson.
One of the more (potentially) amusing moments in the Best of volume comes during a league match in which Alf Ramsey is in charge. Rovers win a corner and Ramsey waves Vic "Superbrat" Guthrie up from the back, indicating that he wants him to stand in front of the opposition 'keeper.
Cut to the ever loquacious Melchester crowd where one fan turns to his neighbour and says (something like), "That's just what Alf used to ask Jackie Charlton to do when he was managing England". At this point the neighbour might have (and should have) responded by asking "Who's Jackie Charlton?!" – provoking the following exchange:
"Y'know, the fella who played all them years for Leeds United"
"Who are Leeds United?"
At that point a look of existential terror would cross the original speaker's face as the Roy universe collapsed under the weight of incongruity and illogic.
But enough. While you waste your precious time reading these words you could be grabbing your coat, dashing to the nearest bookshop, and purchasing a copy of this fantabulous volume for yourself.
Go. Go now.
July 9, 2008