Thursday 19 March 2009

Roy of the Rovers Monthly

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.

Cover to the sample issue 1 - the main image is by me, the smaller images are by Sean Longcroft and Warren Pleece.

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.

"Delroy of the Rovers" ran the headline in the tabloid newspapers at the time.
The comic strip was very committed to the Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign and I designed posters for the campaign featuring Delroy and Rocky. The strip itself never shied away from dealing with issues of racism in the game

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!).

Rocky's attempts to escape football prove fruitless as he finds himself watching a kids game and standing next to a life long Rovers' fan
Contrasting the northern skies ("through the wind and the rain") with the shared warmth of the football crowd and the sunshine of cup success and the open top bus.
The top image shows the end of 'Grandad' Roy's career with a knee injury. (see below)

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.

Three generations of Race - Grandfather, Father and son. This was a cover image featuring a cigarette card, bubble gum card and Panini sticker for each generation.
I tried to give each one an 'era' face - a fifties face a seventies face and a nineties face

Grandad Roy - a reinterpretation of the Joe Colquhoun era, again I'm most proud of how fifties he looks - footballers don't look like this anymore. I don't just mean the kit I mean the man himself.

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).

Another cover image

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.

A strip from Shoot - this is a reserve game with Rocky's arch rival, Johnny Dexter encouraging Rocky's eventual replacement to impress

Another Shoot strip - this one features real Liverpool players. (Colours by Geraint Ford)

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:

Psychederek goes down to sign on

To this:

The Melchester defence is unhinged by Keegan's Newcastle

I'm quite proud of what Stuart and I did with Roy of the Rovers**, there's been nothing quite like it before or since, although it may have been more appreciated if it had been football comics in general rather than one of the great icons of British comics that we were so gleefully deconstructing.

*I'll put together another monster blog about SLANG comic at some point...

**Other artists who worked on the strip included Sean Longcroft, Gerraint Ford, Gary Marshall and David Jukes.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff - cheers for a most interesting post. So were you gutted when ROTR Monthly ended?

John Freeman said...

Fascinating post - thanks for sharing. There's an official web site for Roy of the Rovers - btw.

David Leach said...

What a great read, thank you for that, I love your take on Roy and the effort you went to. I also remember your artwork for Glory Glory, In fact I think I might have some samples panels of your artwork at home, don't know how I ended up with it. I also did a strip for Glory Glory called: Bobby Stone Football's Man of Rock.

Last year I edited The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s and also The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers for Titan books and this year I'm doing The 1970s and another Bumper book. As a result I've had to read through all of the 70s and 80s Roy strips as well as every annual from 1957 to 1990.

What a shame Glory Glory never happened, it would have been great.

G.G. said...

Wow, I would really love to see more from this period of Roy! Your artwork is wonderful.

Rob Davis said...

Bristle: by the time the Monthly ended I was exhausted and badly needed a break from football strips, so it took a while before it sank in. Initially I was just glad to have a weekend off.

John: Cheers and thanks for Down the Tubes one of the best comic sites out there.

David: You'd be David Leach then? Hello. Faz told me you were collecting the Roy strips together for Titan. God help you if you ever have to do RotR: The 90s - trying to bring any continuity to that could be fun!

I remember Bobby Stone although I didn't realise that was you. I think we must have met at the Tundra offices...

Yeah, great shame about Glory Glory. Yet another occasion of an awful lot of money squandered without even getting a comic out in the shops. Seen that happen too often.

Rob Davis said...

Cheers Grant. There's plenty of this Roy stuff kicking around the studio here. Maybe I'll do a RotR Monthly part two blog.

paulhd said...

Nice article. Remember reading about Glory Glory in an issue of Comics Forum and thinking 'there's a football comic I'd read.' and I hated football.

StrKav said...

Fantastic info. Being a keen RotR fan from Greece, I'd be happy to get to know more about that period.

Thanks Rob...

Anonymous said...

A ROTR Monthly pt2 would be grand, Rob!

Is anyone going to admit to working on Gary Lineker's Hot Shot?

David Leach said...

Hey Rob,

Yep, I'd be that David Leach. I didn't know you knew Faz, but then comics tends to be a small community. It's quite possible Titan does, at some point do a 90's Roy book. So far we've done a Best of the 80s and now I'm working on the 70s. So the 90s could be next, I'll keep you posted.

shane oakley said...

ullo, rob. i HATE football but i do remember actually PAYING for one of those comics, cus your art was so lovely. and i recall a meeting at the SSI(society of strip illustrators)with a GLORYGLORY guest panel-cum-talent search night. i even came up with an idea on the spot with a co-writer mate, all set in some local pub, bout a group of fans 'thru the ages'.
like i said, i have no love for the game, but back then i was hungry for work, and would even do football.
but, i think we weren't taken serious, since our team is STOKE CITY.

really dig your art, rob, it's got style and cool wallop.

Rob Davis said...

StrKav: Many of the pictures I've put up are from RotR monthly issue 6. If you feel tempted to buy an issue via Ebay or whatever, that'd be a good one to get as it's probably the closest Stuart and I got to getting it right.

David: If that happens, drop me a line. Cheers, mate.

Shane: Thanks, "cool wallop" sounds like something I want in my armoury ;-)

One of the first things I remember Frank and Stuart talking about was the cultural divide between people who were into football and people who were into comics - in short the jocks versus the geeks syndrome. I think the popularity of football among a wider public after the 1990 world cup allied to the success of books like Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby gave them a sense that there was a way to bridge the cultural chasm.

Would have been interesting to see how Glory Glory would have done. I think it had the opportunity to allow a lot of talented young British writers and artists to produce comics about reality (even it was under the guise of football strips).

RotR was for football fans not comic fans, of course, and giving Roy Race the Alan Moore style deconstruction that had proved so successful on superheroes was probably doomed from the off.

StrKav said...

Thanks for the reply Rob. I already have all the RotR Monthlies...

The fact that the storylie continued in Shoot mag was very confusing and if you haven't read the Shoot strips it is hard to make sense. Great artwork, though, although completeley different to the David Sque style we grew up to...

Rob Davis said...

StrKav: I always imagined it must be difficult for people to follow a story when 100+ pages of it are syndicated in a different magazine.

Maybe if David does collect the 90s RotR strips together the Monthly stories and the weekly Shoot strips could be tied together.

Darren Price said...

I loved what you guys did with the old Roy of the Rovers comic. Back in the day I made sure that I bought both the monthly comic and even started buying shoot simply for the strip!

Would love for them to all be collected in one volume, I would definitely buy it!!!!

I hear there are plans to relaunch Roy of the Rovers again... are you likely to be involved?

Rob Davis said...

Hi Darren, glad you enjoyed the strip.

Egmont are putting out some reprints as a Summer Special next month. But I'm not part of any plans for a relaunch.

SiFraser said...

Wow this brought some memories back! I drew a couple of stories for Stuart in ROY and also in SHOOT. The first work I ever did in colour. In fact I taught myself to colour so that I could get the job. My mate Garry Marshall brought me in, but Stuart wasn't convinced that I could draw Footie ( not being a fan at that time ) so I didn't get on board until quite late ( until Stuart was desperate ).
I really enjoyed the little work I did on ROY, due in no small part to the excellent work that you and Stuart had done setting it up and making it 'real' again.
It was a short step ( ish ) into the JD MEGAZINE from ROY and the rest in history, as they say.

Love your work on HUZZAH too, great to see you're still doing comics.


Loo Read said...

Absolutely brilliant,
I moved to the USA in the 90's and had no idea of these newer "Rovers" comics.
Wonderful artwork; I love the style, it gives the story a realistic dark side.

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