Roy of the Rovers: Pressure – sheer wonderful footballing soap-opera fun of a book – Rob Williams, Lisa Henke, et al have given us a ROTR for now – and with the final book of the season, it’s time to get those goosebump worthy Roy of the Rovers moments all over again!
ROTR: Pressure is the final book of Season 2 of these new ROTR adventures, which have so far seen 6 graphic novels by Rob Williams and Ben Willsher (art – season 1, books 1-3) & Lisa Henke (art – season 2, books 4-6), and six prose books from Tom Palmer (with illustrations by Lisa Henke and Dan Cornwell).
Over the entire series thus far, we’ve seen a brand-new Roy Race for a new generation, with an exploration of lower league football, what it means to be a young kid with a fabulous talent (Roy), what it means to be even better but struggle to get a game just because of who you are (Rocky), more focus on the women’s game, relationships, struggles and some of the greatest on-field action ever.
Yes, to say that I love this new Roy of the Rovers would be about right.
So, two parts to this. First, why Williams did this finale to season 2 EXACTLY right and second, I want to talk a little about Lisa Henke’s artwork.
Ready for kick-off?
(++Oh, and yes, sort of SPOILER WARNINGS from here on in…++)
(Although it’s SPOILERING nothing but the fact that yes, we get the only ending we should have this season – this is ROTR after all!)
Okay – FIRST HALF – writer stuff – whistle blows and off we go…
Right then. It’s end of the season time. Melchester Rovers have been promoted to Division 1 (the third tier of English football), are having to play their games out of Tynecaster’s Premier League stadium after the Melchester ground was burned down by their old owner, their Captain Vic Guthrie lost control in a match and is taking a break, old manager Mighty Mouse is back in charge after recovering from his heart attack, and their crooked owner is behind bars – for financial irregularities and the aforementioned arson attack.
The 30-point deduction Melchester were penalised with has been rescinded, but they’ve still got no stadium and it could be that this might be their last season – unless they can somehow find a new owner and financing.
And on the pitch, the only thing that matters, now that they’re back in the top half of the table, is pushing on for these last few games to grab promotion to the Championship.
So – two things that need to happen in an ideal world. A rich new owner comes in and saves the day in last-minute fashion and Melchester clinch promotion. Getting both of them really would be, as the old saying goes, real Roy of the Rovers stuff.
You know how sometimes writers are desperate to throw you for a curve, to do the unexpected, to put the last-minute shocker in? Well, sometimes it’s not the way to go. You want a perfect example? Field of Dreams, the Kevin Costner baseball movie (from the book by WP Kinsella), always had to end with Ray and his dream being able to survive when the people do come, just as was foretold. Sometimes the obvious way is not just the right way to go but it’s also the best way to go.
And Williams, here in Pressure, does exactly that, wrapping up season two in the perfect way, the only way, the right way. 50 odd pages of great on-pitch action, wonderfully soap-opera tinged stuff off the pitch, all building up the pace and the tension to the ending, the pace of it all just perfect.
By the finale, by the final pages, I had goosebumps, the same sort of goosebumps I get from a really great rom-com or drama that goes exactly where you expect it to do but you’re just so impressed with how they do it that you realise it’s exactly the right way to go.
So yes, thank you to Williams for a great, great finale to the season. Here’s to the 2020/2021 Roy of the Rovers season 3!!!
WHISTLE BLOWS – First half is over. Grab an orange segment and be back for the second half…
SECOND HALF – Just how good is Lisa Henke?
Right then. So I’ve told you how much fun the story is, how it all goes just as it should and gives you a great read. But so much of that is down to Lisa Henke and the art she brings to ROTR.
Let’s start with that panel above, the very first page of Pressure, where things look bad for Melchester and for Roy. And she absolutely nails the mood there – Rocky sets it all up with her words, but it’s Henke who truly delivers the tone with the desolate streets where Melchester once stood.
And then there’s this –
The emotional heart of the piece, Roy and Ffion’s relationship that’s been slowly building, in the background mostly, has to come to a head here after she got the invite to go study and play in the USA. Look at the composition of that – the two figures on either side, the distance implies the emotional problems, so simple yet so perfect – you get the meaning of what’s going on there even without the words.
And her character work throughout is just perfect, there’s this delightful angularity to her artwork that comes through so strong in her on the pitch artwork yet is softened slightly in her off the pitch artwork. It’s still there of course, and it’s perfect for the intended readership – a lightweight look, a modern look, but damn, it’s so wonderfully crafted.
And as for the actual on the pitch stuff…
I’ve talked about her use of near abstraction before, but it’s still something that impresses so much. Just look at those couple of panels above, look at the impossible shape of the ball and those speed lines behind Roy – they just work because Henke is confident enough to understand just how to do them so that your mind makes them work. It’s incredibly confident visual manipulation that you’ll see again and again and again here.
There it is again – the impossible ball – but there’s also the perfect choreography that Henke brings to the page with the motion of the motionless images on the page. You follow the movement, the action, the ball, as things develop. Damn, it’s just so good.
And here’s something new (I think). For some reason, I remember most of the ROTR games being played in near-perfect conditions. There’s always a crisp green pitch and it’s always in bright sunlight. But this is England and it rains here. Rains a lot. So here we get a sequence of a rainy game, mud covering the players, it’s dark, it’s miserable, it’s just football.
Here’s another one in the rain…
Yes, the action there is quite sublime, the motion of that ball, the keeper diving with no hope, the ball hitting the back of the net – it’s all there.
But that’s not the thing that really gets me with that panel.
No, it’s this…
Look at that crowd in the background – look at them – look at the intensity of what Henke gives them, those you can see are incredible, and then it drops to a mere abstraction, an idea of a figure, the crowd as a mere few lines on the page. I just love that so much.
But I’ll leave you with this…
Now, if you don’t sit up and adore that page, there’s something very wrong with you.
I mean, where do you start? The page composition? The seamless transition through the three separate images – silhouette, Roy’s acrobatics, the ball hitting the back of the net – three in one, three completely different images but working together flawlessly (and yes, that perfect crowd image in the background again). It’s the little things that add so much to the imagery that Henke puts on the page – here it’s the way she’s drawn the lines of the net and that blur of the completely unrecognisable yet completely obvious ball as it not just bursts the net but breaks the very panel. So very, very good.
Yes, Lisa Henke’s artwork is simply perfect. Over the course of three graphic novels this season, her art’s evolved just beautifully, with so much more abstraction in her visuals, backing up the perfect figure work. It’s a simply incredible art style that’s perfect for this modern-day Roy.
Roy of the Rovers Book 6 – Pressure – Season 2 Graphic Novel 3 – written by Rob Williams, art by Lisa Henke, letters by Jim Campbell, colours by John Charles & Guilherme Lindemberg Mendes, published by Rebellion.
Pressure is released on 29 October – put it on your to buy list.