Previewing ‘War Picture Library: Battle Of Britain’ Shows Ian Kennedy Is The Master Of Aviation Art

by Richard Bruton

There’s a long and glorious comic history of British war comics. And until now, much of it had been lost to the mists of time. Thankfully, we now have the Treasury of British Comics and their War Picture Library.
It’s a series that began with Alex Toth and this April, the second volume arrives, featuring the master of airplane comics, Ian Kennedy, doing what he does best…
Ian Kennedy was (still is in fact) the greatest aviation artist in Britain. And in Battle of Britain, with some gloriously restored pages, telling two tales of ‘Aviation heroism and derring-do‘ set during the country’s darkest hour, the Battle of Britain.
Dogfights, aerial duels, heroism and heart-stopping action, taken from Air Ace Picture Library and all so beautifully drawn by Kennedy. Seriously, it’s a book full of this…

And this…

And this…

As for the writers, that’s more difficult. The Air Ace Picture Library were, like so many comics of the time, published without either writer or artist credits. Artists are a lot easier to identify, but names such as EW Evans, Douglas Leach, Gordan W Brunt, Edward G Cowan, V Stokes, Tom Tully, RP Clegg, James Hart Higgins, Syd J Bounds, R Wilding, and A Carney Allan could well have had a hand in these two tales.
In ‘Steel Bats‘, we’re following the night fighters, Squadron 770, taking to the skies in their Boulton Paul Defiant interceptors to combat the nightly raids of the Luftwaffe. Trained flyers seconded to the 770 include Mitchell, a young RAF pilot whose just lost his dad to the air raids and finds himself continually at odds with his COs.

It’s the details that make it, both the fascinating little moments – the use of night goggles in the camp from 15:00 hours to give the pilots better night vision – or the incredible details of Kennedy’s artwork, as you can plainly see from both the preview below and the close-ups here.

In ‘Steel Bats’, the night-time action gives Kennedy the chance to do some truly amazing work, the intensity of his black and white work just wonderful to see.

Never Say Die Wapiti‘ features Perkins, just one of the few, a Spitfire pilot determined to defend his country from the enemy.
But Perkins is reckless, accident prone, too keen for combat and it ends with him dumped out to the X-Planes station; literally the ex-planes, a collection of old and broken aircraft. One of which is a knackered old The Westland Wapiti, a relic of the 20s. But Perkins’ penchant for cocking-up sees him downed in occupied France, alongside the Resistance, and not looking forward to returning to England, where a court-martial surely awaits for accidentally bombing one of his own ships. Ooops.

It’s a wonderful story, full of twists and turns, very much rooted in the time of course, but still managing to tell a story that really draws you into all the action.
But make no mistake, this is one that’s all about the art. Ian Kennedy has long been recognised as a master of comic art, in particular, a genius when it comes to aviation art. And frankly, that should be obvious to you by now. C’mon, seriously, how can you resist this?

War Picture Library: Battle of Britain, featuring the tales Never Say Die Wapiti and Steel Bats, art by Ian Kennedy, writers unknown.
Featuring material from Air Ace Picture Library #65, February 1961 and Air Ace Picture Library #182, February 1964.
Published by Rebellion and the Treasury of British Comics 16 April 2020.
First, the preview of Steel Bats

And now Never Say Die Wapiti...

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