Roy scores in the European Cup Final!
Back in 1993 I landed the job as artist on the relaunch of British comic icon Roy of the Rovers. Fleetway had given Stuart Green, the editor and writer, a green light to reinvent the strip and he asked me to provide the artwork. Previously Stuart and I had worked together on the ill-fated Glory Glory for Tundra UK and after its demise both of us had been kicking our heels wondering what to do next.
Glory Glory was a fortnightly football anthology comic intended for the newstands. It combined gritty realism, surreal comedy and stylish football action. It was the brainchild of Stuart and Frank Plowright.
Stuart's plan was to bring the same sensibilities to Roy of the Rovers. His ideas were brilliant but ruthless. The original title had been cancelled in March 1993 and the story of Roy Race ended with Roy crashing his private helicopter, readers were left not knowing if he was alive or dead. In September of the same year our Monthly comic started up and Roy awoke from a coma to find that his comic strip world had gone and reality had moved in. The first shock was discovering that he had lost his famous left foot, amputated after the crash.
A very different iconic image of Roy Race, not your standard front cover image for a football comic. caused a bit of a stir with criticism from some disabled groups and a TV show even linking the image to a history of comics portraying people in wheel chairs as failures or evil vengeful monsters. We were simply trying to show Roy's true innate heroism in the way he overcomes the 'worst thing that could have happened'.
The second shock was to discover that the new Roy of the Rovers was 'Delroy' of the Rovers, a ragamuffin who plays for Nigeria.
Third shock was to discover that his son, Rocky, has turned into a cocky little brat (this shock happens to most parents of course). Rocky is also in the Melchester team now, but it turns out he's not exactly a chip off the old block. He doesn't seem to be anywhere near as good as his dad was, he's grumpy, opinionated, self centred and ends up in fights, walking out of the club and even taking ecstasy. A whole new meaning to Racey's rocket.
As you can see from these pages, which show Rocky wondering around Melchester Rec in solipsistic mode, the story telling is often concerned as much with a face in the a Melchester Rovers' crowd or 'off the field' affairs as it is with the action on the pitch (a relegation battle of course!).
Much of what we did was disregarded by later revamps of the strip. Stuart wanted to be able to write about the history of Roy, but it was so ridiculous it undermined the whole sense of realism he was aiming for (for example Roy had been playing in the top flight for 40 years!). Some retconning was required. Roy's career was split in two and the early years were attributed to Roy's father. So we had a Roy Race dynasty.
Amusing bit of retcon here - Thanks to Roy Race England qualify for the 1978 World Cup
Flashbacks were a regular storytelling device in the monthly and I relished switching between eras often using different materials to depict a different time. This oil pastel and pencil stuff was for the dark theaters inside the old man's head - the only place for replaying games from a time before TV.
'Grandad' Roy in action as remembered by the ol' fella in the park
I went a bit over the top with some of seventies flashback scenes. Hand painting seventies designs as panel borders with gouache was never a good idea. And there's some dodgy drawing going on here...
An early experiment with flashbacks from issue 1
Another twist was having Melchester Rovers playing real teams with real players (albeit with the names changed). Here's Rocky battling with Bryan Figgs (okay, I made that one up! You get the idea).
The strip also ran simultaneously in Shoot magazine as a two page spread every week (Shoot was selling 120,000 a week in those days, hard to believe now). I took on the drawing duties there and the monthly strip alternated between artists. After a couple of years Fleetway had had enough of our antics and pulled the plug.
I never had any intention or ambition to draw football comics, but I'm glad I did it. Prior to Glory Glory I had been producing the psychedelic small press comic SLANG* with Sean Longcroft. Essentially I went from doing this: