Saturday, 13 October 2007

More on Robin Hood

Lew Stringer seems to have been particularly disappointed with the BBC’s new Robin Hood Adventures magazine, accusing it of dumbing-down horribly. Since Lew is normally inclined to defend the current state of the British comics industry, seeing evolution where others see decay, this is pretty damning.

He is particularly puzzled by the huge divergence between the style of the comic strip (comedy) and the style of the TV show from which it is spun-off (melodrama). It is indeed a particularly stark example, but changes of tone are common in transition between the media. I have noted before that the Doctor Who Adventures comic strip, while it captures some of the zest and energy of the television programme, has none of its darkness or romance. The reasoning is presumably that these elements are not suitable for children – but the children are only reading the comic strip because they like the TV programme of which those elements are a part. This puzzled me when I was a boy, and it puzzles me now. (I suppose there are some cases where a child aspires to watch a television programme which is indeed unsuitable for him or her, and makes do with a comic adaptation as a substitute, but that is unlikely to be the case with Robin Hood or Doctor Who.)

Something similar affected a previous adaptation of a TV Robin. In an interview with Look-In: A Tribute to the Junior TV Times, writer Angus P Allan recalled, “My relationship with the comic ended slowly. It began with the increasing editorial pressure to diminish and finally ban all violence, at whatever level. I cannot now imagine why Look-In continued to pay for the rights to A-Team while forbidding me even to show a pistol in the strip. Insane. And when the editor bought Robin Of Sherwood and asked me to write it without bows and arrows … well! The ensuing argument resulted in getting my own way, but I had to promise to use arrows only to send messages or convey climbing lines to castle battlements. What a nonsense! It was at that time that Look-In began to fall heavily in circulation, and no wonder. I don't agree with blood and gore and mindless violence at all, but kids love a bit of mayhem, and God knows there's enough of the real thing around.”

The reasoning of editor Colin Sherbourn is set out in this interview on the same site.

I’m sad to note that Angus Allan died last month. There’s an obituary at the bottom of this page.

Anyway, enough with this! I’m unlikely to spend £1.99 for another two pages of Robin Hood comic strip per issue. Instead I’ll be saving my pennies for the Book Palace’s forthcoming collection of all the Frank Bellamy-drawn Robin Hood strips from Swift, as announced by Steve Holland on his Bear Alley blog.

Panels and pictures
Illustration by Paul Cemmick from Robin Hood Adventures issue 1, BBC Magazines, 10-23 October 2007

Robin of Sherwood, script by Angus P Allan, art by Mike Noble, colour by Arthur Ranson, Look-in, scan taken from The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History

Robin Hood and his Merry Men, from a page of Frank Bellamy artwork from Swift circa 1956, scan downloaded from an art dealer’s page so long ago that I can so longer remember where it was

1 comment:

Ang said...

Having been for a look at Lew's (would have commented there too, but can't find the usual comment link) I have to say that the comic is appalling but not unexpected.

I'm a huge Robin of Sherwood fan (my boyfriend is old enough to remember the show, and introduced me to it via the DVDs) and, while I knew that Robin Hood would be a different conceptualisation of the legend for a new generation, I was shocked by how bad the first episode was in terms of production and storytelling. I've been doggedly avoiding it ever since.

As for the comic... *sigh* It's a prime example of how little is expected of children these days. It's a strange aspect of our culture that while suggestive strappy tops, creepily sexualised Bratz dolls and other badges of "maturity" are marketed at six-year-old girls who then see themselves as adult, the comics traditionally aimed at children have got more childish.

The sad thing is that both comics and TV shows which would once have appealed to a wide age-range are now ghettoising themselves by making themselves suitable for a limited, younger audience - which can only help to reduce rather than broaden the comics market.

2000AD and British reprints of American comics aside, there seem to be very few comics and magazines which would appeal to older (say, ten to thirteen) children without patronising them - the boys in particular. I remember hearing that FBX had met its demise a few years ago due to the fact that "boys don't buy general interest mags", yet I don't think this was true in previous generations - boys certainly bought Look-In, which for all its nervousness about violence at least had a mix of things tailored to the interests of older kids. Then there's the older and more educational magazines from the 60s and 70s...

Whatever the case, RHA isn't changing the status quo.