Back in the day comics were a part of every kid’s life. Boys and girls had their favourite weekly ‘papers’ following the adventures of their favourite characters. Fleetway, part of IPC Magazines, were perhaps the biggest publishers of comics. And in 1961 a young Barrie Tomlinson joined the company.
His first job was on Lion and it began an adventure in comics which would last a lifetime. Barrie progressed to head of department working on iconic titles like Tiger, Roy of the Rovers and Battle. Comic Book Hero is the first hand account of his life working in comics with great writers, amazing artists, and countless celebrities.
In a hurry? 50 word Comic Book Hero review here.
Comic Book Hero Review
In short. I loved this book. It’s easy to read, full of interesting stories and brought back happy memories of my comic reading days. Physically the hardback book is nice to handle. The has a wonderful cover and is packed with stories, reproductions of original drawings, and great photos of sports stars and celebrities.
It’s a backstage pass and a revealing insight into the world of comic publishing. Barrie reveals how the writers and artists worked and how the editors pulled everything together. It is full of anecdotes and insider stories. Anybody who read a comic back in the day is going to enjoy this book.
I was an avid reader of comics when I was a kid and grew up on the weekly adventures of Roy Race, Hot Shot Hamish, and Billy Dane. The specially drawn cover of Comic Book Hero features all three.
Cover to cover anecdotes
Open up the book and with no waffle or preamble the reader is instantly plunged into the world of comics. The tales begin straight away and they don’t stop. From the early sixties and his first job as sub-editor on Lion to setting up his own company in 1988 Barrie takes us on a breathless tour through comic publishing.
Many of the stories in Comic Book Hero centre on the celebrities who wrote for the comics. But don’t expect tabloid style exposes and tittle tattle. Barrie has a good word for everyone and the stories are no less entertaining for it.
Comic lovers and nostalgia buffs will find themselves shouting out loud “I remember that” at a photo or mention of a comic character. There will also be rueful smiles at how things have changed.
One popular feature in the new Eagle was Glamorous Teacher. Kids would send in photos of their favourite female teachers. Different times folks!
Publicity and celebrity
One of the things which constantly shine through in the book is Barrie’s love of, and flair for, PR. He pulled more stunts than Tom Cruise. There are plenty of anecdotes of lunches and events which celebrities and sports stars flocked to.
A case in point was the massive launch party for the new Eagle which featured a duel between Dan Dare and The Mekon while Big Daddy perched on a minivan. And there are plenty of photos in the book of celebs enjoying a photo opp with Barrie or a comic character.
Barrie was always experimenting with ways to connect the readers to the comics. And the reader giveaways were always popular. The book brought back some long forgotten memories of free gifts I received as a reader of Tiger and Roy of the Rovers.
These included a Melchester Rovers season ticket and Supporters Club membership stickers. Photos of each are in the book. I imagine there are more than one or two readers of this blog who were (maybe still are) proud owners of those mementoes.
Comic book history
The book includes early sketches of Battle’s Storm Force. It’s great to see these artworks. And there are more examples of original drawings throughout the book.
Unfortunately, I never read the Storm Force stories as I had stopped buying comics by then but they appeared in Battle’s final year of publication in 1987-88.
There is a section on Speed which only lasted 31 issues in 1980. It’s a title I’m unfamiliar with but its short shelf life was a harbinger of things to come as sales of comics began to slowly decline.
Even so in 1982 Barrie realised an ambition by relaunching Eagle. The original comic ran from 1950 to 1962. The new version from 1982 to 1994.
The new Eagle introduced photo stories into adventure comics – though they didn’t last long. But how Barrie planned and launched the new Eagle is a fascinating section of the book. It includes an image of Barrie’s original notes complete with doodles.
As with his other comics Barrie persuaded lots of celebrities to write in the new publication. But senior management soon put a stop to the practice. A decision which, reading between the lines, clearly rankled a bit.
Scream it’s a horror comic
Comic Book Hero contains sections on all the comics Barrie worked on. And there were plenty of them. Including Scream.
A horror comic, Scream was a huge departure from the usual boy’s papers. Nevertheless Barrie produced a comic he was proud of only for management to demand lots of changes. And you can sense the frustration he must have felt at the time. Scream only lasted 15 issues.
However, another publication which went on to enjoy more success was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This ran for three years and it’s easy to see that Barrie was pleased with the success of this publication.
The book also has short sections on other comics Barrie was involved with including mask, Supernatural, Wildcat and Hot Shot. All of which were relatively short-lived.
A story which was anything but short-lived was Scorer featuring footie star Dave Storry. It ran for 22 years. The book’s section on Scorer which ran for over 6,000 episodes in the Daily Mirror is an interesting one. Especially how, as the strip evolved, the women in Dave Storrys’ life became equally important as the hero.
Barrie waits until the end of the book to reveal how he got started in journalism and publishing. The story of the Anti-Trombone League (you need to read the book) is amusing and a great insight into self-publishing a magazine and using it as a springboard to a career. As someone involved in the early days of football fanzine publishing I really enjoyed this this section of the book.
Comic Book Hero review – in a nutshell
Comic Book Hero is an entertaining and engaging memoir of the most popular era of comics told through amusing anecdotes and wonderful photos. Guaranteed to fire up the memory banks and an enjoyable read for anyone over a certain age or with a love for comics. Highly recommended.
(4 / 5)
Read our special feature – In conversation with Barrie Tomlinson
Comic Book Hero and Barrie’s other book Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff! are available from Amazon.