Titan Books, £12.99
Reviewed by Harry Pearson
From WSC 266 April 2009
As a boy I always resented those bits of the comic annual that were given over not to the strips but to solid blocks of text, what my mother would term “proper stories”. It struck me that, like the bizarre habit of putting hard centres in boxes of chocolates, this was just another adult way of limiting a child’s enjoyment of life.
I felt a similar sense of childish frustration when leafing through The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers, which draws together various pieces from Roy Race’s first decade-and-a-half at Melchester and liberally sprinkles them with the sort of adverts that are guaranteed to have people of a certain age muttering “The Raleigh Panther go-kart! I wanted one of those, but my Dad said it would just churn up the lawn” and such like.
Unfortunately, though the Bumper Book is carefully designed and lovingly rendered (it’s even printed on that strange grainy paper), just like in the original annuals there are altogether too few real comic strip adventures for this boy’s taste, only three in fact. That one of them is the classic in which Melchester are forced to play a match against a team of eastern European robots – a strip I can recall reading when it first appeared in Tiger – only adds to a feeling that far too much space has been wasted on “proper stories”, though, admittedly, one of these does feature Racey thwarting Spanish bandit leader El Lobo by kicking a football straight into his undoubtedly “swarthy” belly. There are also double page spreads devoted to “The Colours of Your Favourite English and Scottish Clubs” (which, controversially, includes Newport County), facts about penalties, quizzes and behind the scenes tours of Mel Park in which Roy frankly seems to be rather showing off about the richness of his life in front of a couple of young fans (Look at the size of that bath!).
The Bumper Book is also a reminder that though Roy Race first burst onto the football comic scene back in 1954, he didn’t really hit his peak until the mid-1970s when the writers and illustrators started to incorporate contemporary styles and events, and even the storylines from popular TV soaps into the strip. The Roy who features in the Bumper Book is very much a man of the National Service generation – at one point he is even mocked by some young ruffians for being “a real square” – and is still sporting a Billy Fury quiff in 1969. He is Roy, but not as most of us remember him – pageboy-haired and defiantly Keeganesque.
The Bumper Book is nice enough, but for those who want to recall Roy, Blackie Gray, Paco Diaz and the rest of the Rovers team at the peak of their considerable dribbling and thunderbolt-shooting powers, Titan’s other recent compilation Roy of the Rovers – The Eighties is a better investment. And it’s more or less solid strips from start to finish too.