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Monday, March 12, 2018

Illustrators Special #2: British War Comics

The second Illustrators special edition concentrates on the artists supplied by the studio of Italian artist and agent, Rinaldo D'Ami (aka Roy D'Amy). Regular readers of Illustrators will know that each issue of the regular quarterly is of the highest quality and filled with gorgeous colour artwork in a wide range of styles. The only difference here is that the book is fatter by about 50 pages.

The origins of the book lay in the rediscovery of over a thousand old War and Battle picture library covers in the Iron Mountain warehouse in Canning Town in the mid-2000s. I remember travelling up to London in September 2005 and meeting up with David Roach and Rufus Dayglo to look through pallets of artwork in a vast, cold hanger. This is where the colour covers had been discovered a couple of weeks earlier. Boxes of them. They became the basis of two books from Prion, Aarrgghh!! It's War (2007) and The Art of War (2008).

The Illustrators Special takes a different approach, tackling the war comics from a different direction, with artwork drawn by members of the D'Ami Studio as its starting point. Thus the book begins with a brief look at D'Ami's early work in Italy before tackling some of the big names from the studio.

First up (and some might say he deserved a whole volume to himself!) is Giorgio De Gaspari, an astonishingly talented artist who worked primarily on the Cowboy and Super Detective libraries before becoming the primary artist for the early War Picture Library, painting covers for 32 of the first 48 issues. Here we are introduced to some of his later work, which is simply incredible, painted for friends and for tradesmen in exchange for food while he lived a hermit-like existence at Pallestrina.

Another favourite of mine (I think I'm going to be repeating that phrase a lot) is Gino D'Antonio, about whom I've written in the past (I edited a collection of some of his literary adaptations, Worlds of Adventure, a few years ago). While the essay is well worth a read, it does repeat a fallacy that Gino began Storia del West in 1967. He didn't. It was originally sold to the UK where it appeared as Valiant Story of the West in 1966, although only two issues appeared.

Next up is Alessandro Biffignandi (another favourite... etc.) who, sadly, died just over a year ago. Again, a fantastic cover artist, well represented here with many examples of his war work for the UK and examples from his years drawing covers for adult comics and novels.

Renzo Calegari was one of the early artists for the War Picture Library, working with Carlo Porciani and other members of the D'Ami Studio to create "Action Stations", "The Gallant Few", "Bombs Away", "Tracy of Tobruk", "Crash Start", "Commandos Die Hard" and other early War titles, as well as "The Rats of Tobruk", the first issue of Battle Picture Library. You'll recognise his dynamic, gritty artwork when you see it.

Another cover artist, Nino Caroselli, is covered in only a few paragraphs, but there are some fine examples of his work. Pino Dell'Orco is also given a little space to show his talents as a painter.

One of the best pieces in the book is the reminiscences of Ferdinando Tacconi shared by Ron Tiner, who was a huge fan of the artist and got to meet him shortly before his death. Tiner writes a detailed account of his work here in the UK, which encompassed everything from war libraries to "Journey Into Space" and dozens of pages for Look and Learn and other educational magazines.

Overall it's an incredible volume, not only for fans of those old British war libraries but for any fan of military artwork or anyone who wants to know more about some of the talents behind many of the finest of British comics.

For more information on Illustrators and back issues of the regular quarterly title, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 22 will feature the history of the Spanish-British agency Bardon Art, which was responsible for bringing to the UK many of the finest Spanish artists to work in comics and book covers, just as the D'Ami Studio supplied Italian artists.

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