John Armstrong – A Tribute
I was so sad to hear of John’s recent passing. Many readers of girls comics will know of his legendary work on Bella at the Bar, the story of a working class gymnast for Tammy, and Moonchild, a Carrie-stye story published in Misty. Both serials were phenomenally popular. Bella, created by Jenny McDade, was so successful it even led to a series of Bella annuals.
He truly was the greatest girls’ comic artist of all time. He was the equivalent in importance of Brian Bolland and Simon Bisley in boys’ comics.
His work flourished in an era where girls’ comics were quite rightly outselling boys’ comics by two to one, because, after all, women have always read more than men. But then they were neglected. Sadly, comics became an exclusive, male sand-pit and girls’ comics died. And I guess John’s importance and significance died with them.
His stories were always number one because he had a skill that is valued highly by girls and, hopefully, by a male audience, too. Namely he was a master of facial expression. Because he had astonishing insights into the female psyche. This is a genius talent that is barely recognized today, but one I have always valued and so did John’s readers. Whereas on a typical male comic, the characters might have a range of – say, 10 facial expressions for happy, sad, angry and determined, John would have 50! So his heroines could show a spectrum of feelings ranging from mild irritation to extreme anguish. The same range and complexity you would expect from a real life actor. So looking at his art is actually like watching TV. Only Joe Colquhoun on boys’ comics had a similar wide range. To me, conveying feelings is far more important and more meaningful than drawing big guns, amazing spaceships and peculiar men in tights. They are an exploration of inner space, of the soul itself.
I was truly privileged to work with John on Moonchild and also Grange Hill for Beeb. He was also a smashing guy. I interviewed him at length some years ago and he told me some extraordinary stories about his life. For example, he was a Day Day plus One veteran. And he then served in the Far East after the Japanese surrender.
Like all really top professionals _ he was ‘low maintenance’. I would describe what I wanted in my scripts and he would get it instantly and just get on with it. I do miss those happy days when we worked together and I miss him, too, greatly.
So I’m delighted that Rebellion have reprinted his work on Bella and Moonchild and I hear he was thrilled to have his stories finally and rightly collected for posterity.
He needs to be remembered alongside all the other comic great artists and writers.
And it bears repeating: John Armstrong was the ultimate girls comic artist.