Sunday, 17 April 2011

Gulliver's Travels

Callmemadam blogged yesterday about Girl, the comic she read as a child. This took me through two stages of reminiscence: first, back to the comic I read, Look and Learn, which began in 1962. I hadn't been allowed a regular comic before that - too frivolous - but L&L was educational, and that was considered A Good Thing. I quite enjoyed it, and it introduced me to a lot of famous books in curtailed form. I remember The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Tale of Two Cities, The Hobbit, all of which I went on to read later in unexpurgated form. What I remember most, though (and I was always underwhelmed by the educational stuff, though I'm sure that much has come in useful since for answering questions on QI), was the comic strip The Trigan Empire, which both fascinated and repelled me, and had in spades everything I later didn't like about Star Trek and every space opera since (and before I'm attacked by ardent Trekkies, I watched it for years...)

The second strand of memory, though, was that my younger brothers were the ones who really won on the deal: since I was getting a regular comic, it was only fair that they should too, and Playhour was ordered for them. It's true that we were an eccentric bunch to say the least, but Playhour quickly became weekly reading for the entire family, thanks to the glorious back-page strip, The Travels of Gulliver Guinea Pig. This undoubtedly contained some of the most beautiful artwork ever seen in a children's comic, and I think it later moved to the centre pages as a double spread.

The original artist was Philip Mendoza, and I'm really delighted to find that, thanks to the wonder of the interwebz, I can now look at his lovely paintings again. I can see that my walls are going to be covered with Gulliver prints shortly. When, overnight, the art changed, my parents, brothers and I were so upset that we wrote to Playhour to complain, and received a very nice letter back, saying, I think, that the artist had been taken ill and had to retire, and that they had done their best to find a worthy successor. It's clear now that many people remember the second artist, Gordon Hutchings, with equal affection, and his work was very attractive, but it was a bit more cartoon-y, and lacked the delightful subtlety of Mendoza's. Looking now with a fresh eye, I can see that some of his paintings for Gulliver are very lovely, but it was never again quite the must-read that it had been. Both examples here are of Mendoza's work (I love this train, with its proper windows, and the ashtray you were always told not to fiddle with).

Illustrations from the strip are available as prints from The Book Palace and in various formats from Magnolia Box.


  1. I didn't get comics either as we were a very low budget household but Look and Learn issues were available at school to read during wet break or lunch-times and I thoroughly enjoyed them then. Later, when I was older, I bought my own teen mag - Fabulous 208. :-)

  2. I go back a bit further than you :) and we always had comics. The Children's Newspaper was educational and not a favourite! However, then we moved onto a comic whose name I just can't bring to mind, which, like Look and Learn, published the classics in graphic form. Now, when I think of Kidnapped, I can actually smell the paper and ink of that comic! After that it was Girl, Girls' Crystal and School Friend and then onto the new teen mags. I wish I'd kept them all, but I do have a few old annuals which help me to spend a nostalgic half hour from time to time!
    I LOVE that illustration! What wonderful detail! I must look out for more of Mendoza's work!