Who is Roy of the Rovers? I could say it’s a question I’ve been asking for a while now, but I’d be lying if I did. It has, however, been a name that’s been popping up a lot at 2000 AD, and while I could’ve gone on ignoring the series, a 65th Anniversary Special seemed like a good opportunity to find out what all the fuss was about.
This book is one of my favorite types of 2000 AD releases, because it appeals to the history lover as much as the Roy Race fan. After 65 years you can bet this series has gone through a lot of changes and this special lays it all out, starting with the series’ beginning as the cover story for the first issue of Tiger magazine in 1954.
That in itself is an area of British comics that can take some explaining. I’d heard of Eagle, Lion, and Tiger thanks to 2000 AD’s Treasury of British Comics imprint (they’re the ones who release the “Best of” decades books for Roy of the Rovers, if you’re interested more in the comics than a book about the comics) but thanks to this special I finally understand how each of them worked and that Lion and Tiger were connected, whereas Eagle came first.
The same way you don’t have to like American football to enjoy Friday Night Lights, you don’t have to like British football to enjoy Roy of the Rovers, and, in fact, not knowing football puts you in the same boat as many of the series’ most popular artists. Joe Colquhoun was the artist who launched the series with writer, Frank S. Pepper, but after the fourth episode Colquhoun wrote the stories, too, despite not really following the sport.
As Mark Towers points out in his three-part feature, “The Archive Conversations,” “When I was reading Roy of the Rovers, I had no idea who the creators were!” and that’s true when you’re a kid (and when you’re an adult – I’m sure you might not know my name, as the writer of this review, but that’s what happens – you don’t always look). Making it even more difficult, Pepper and Colquhoun (and later Colquhoun by himself) used the pen name, “Stewart Colwyn,” after the Conway Stewart fountain pen Colquhoun used. Therefore, even if you had looked, you wouldn’t have known their names.
That’s why, on top of comprehensive essays that provide a complete history of the comics’ run, from Roy striking out on his own as a weekly, to the reboot that’s about to start its second season, there are artist profiles on Yvonne Hutton and David Sque that talk a little bit about process. There’s a list of the 50 greatest Roy moments (many of them straight out of a soap) and another on uniforms (the Melchester Rovers always wore yellow and red), and if writers and artists sometimes don’t get their due, it’s worse for editors. Here you get to find out about Derek Birnage and Barry Tomlinson, in essays that really flesh out what they contributed to Roy of the Rovers over the years.
A few of the issues are reprinted, so you can see what they were like (this might have just been an error in the review pdf I was sent but one was missing two pages and the scan of the issue from the 50’s was fuzzy on the black & white pages). Its thanks to Towers that 2000 AD have all these issues, and there’s an essay on him as well.
Who is Roy of the Rovers? A football player, but one who came to represent the best of humanity. How does a comic get to be sixty-five years old? Read Roy of the Rovers 65th Anniversary Special to find out out.
Available now from 2000 AD.