Overview

Racey's Rocket: Football Comics' Greatest Heroes

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As part of our ongoing spotlight this week on the British comics scene, Broken Frontier is providing a brief look at some of the collected editions of material, both vintage and contemporary, that deserve your discerning attention. Bored of the recycled storylines and themes of super-hero comics? Fed up with constant reboots of your favourite characters? Keen to try out something a little different next time you’re at the LCS? Then check in this week for a different spotlight each day on Brit comics material designed to expand your consciousness beyond the capes and cowls…

In the heady days when British weekly comics lined the newsagent’s shelves from wall to wall, one of the most remarkable things was the diversity of styles and genres on offer. The titles could be largely split into humour comics and strip adventure comics (and sometimes a mix of the two!). Falling into that latter category were the sports comics; the fondly-remembered Tiger was an anthology that covered a broad spectrum of sporting heroes, while comics like Roy of the Rovers, Scorcher, Score ‘n’ Roar and Football Picture Story Monthly focused on exploits on the football field (or soccer pitch for those of you in the U.S.).

For whole generations of British schoolboys Roy of the Rovers, Nipper, The Safest Hands in Soccer, Hot Shot Hamish, Mighty Mouse, Billy’s Boots and The Hard Man were the UK equivalent of their American super-heroic counterparts. Tastes change, however, and by the early ’90s the last survivor of the classic era of football comics, Roy of the Rovers, came to a rather cynical end when Roy Race lost his foot in a helicopter accident, after a not inconsiderable playing career of around forty years…

Unfortunately, the collections of British sporting comic strips are few and far between, and sadly unrepresentative of the amount of material published between the 1950s and the 1990s. However, Titan have repackaged a number of Roy of the Rovers storylines that represent a variety of eras of the Melchester Rovers captain’s playing days. There are two The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers hardcovers collecting comic strips, text stories and articles from the ‘50s and ‘60s. These book are presented in a gloriously retro style, even down to the tanned looking pages! Showcasing a time when big money and greed hadn’t infiltrated the British national game, they are a wonderful time capsule of a more simplistic age of fair play and jolly decency.

Titan have also published three all-colour collections of Roy of the Rovers strips from the weekly comic. These comprise The Best of Roy of the Rovers (volumes for the 1970s and the 1980s) and a World Cup Special that tied in with the English football team’s unfortunately embarrassing display in South Africa last year. If only they’d had Roy Race and Blackie Gray there to rally the team… The 1980s collection is particularly notable for the inclusion of the infamous “Who Shot Roy Race?” story arc that will bring memories flooding back for anyone who grew up reading comics in the UK in that decade.

           

In a more humorous vein, Hot Shot Hamish follows the adventures of Hamish Balfour, formerly a shepherd on a remote Scottish island, who comes to live in the big city when he joins top football side Princes Park. The rather naïve Hamish was blessed with a goal-scoring shot so fierce it could break a goalpost, a pet sheep called McMutton and endearingly comedic adventures that were a departure from the normal drama of footballing comic strips. In 2008, the ironically named Black and White Publishing reprinted a whole book of Hamish’s exploits in the Hot Shot Hamish Annual 2009, which is still available. Sadly, the gloriously muddy monotone art has been coloured, which will annoy the purists, but it’s a small price to see the big man back in action!

A final mention, for those wanting to discover more about the UK’s soccer-playing comic heroes, goes to Adam Riches’ Football’s Comic Book Heroes which analyses a century’s worth of football stories in boys picture papers. Racey’s Rocket and Hamish’s Hot Shot may well have burst the net for the final time, but for British readers of a certain age, the pitch bound heroics of Roy Race and company will never be forgotten!

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