Celebrating British Comic History
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Rebellion’s The Rise And Fall Of The Trigan Empire Vol.2 out now…
The Rise and Fall of The Trigan Empire Volume II
Writer: Mike Butterworth
Artist: Don Lawrence, Ron Embleton
Rebellion’s second hefty volume of reprints from The Rise and Fall of The Trigan Empire gathers together another 280 pages of sumptuous painted art from the late-1960s heyday of Look and Learn, repeating the first volume’s nostalgic dive back into a style of British comics that thrived for a long period and which is very hard to imagine getting off the ground today. Still written by Mike Butterworth and – with one exception – drawn by Don Lawrence, these three years of stories find the two creators sticking with the template that served them well when the strip was launched and appealed to Look and Learn‘s young readers, but raising the tone of the strip to even statelier levels of high fantasy.
The set-up remains the same, science fiction mixed with historical epic set on the far distant world of Elekton. A dynasty of handsome blond rulers, including the noble Trigo and various brothers, nephews, courtiers and advisers, lead the Trigan Empire through a sequence of constant crises and adventure. Trigo stands for decent patrician rule in the British Empire tradition – the positive aspects of that concept, at least. Although some stories involve random events in far off places, others arise closer to home from unhappy social groups or rebellion against Trigan rule. Hints of ethnic exaggeration in the faces catch the eye now, but the educational and liberal remit of Look and Learn is still clear around these stories – it’s 1968 and UK children’s comics are steering a delicate course through post-Colonial waters.
Trigan Empire started out with a smattering of sci-fi elements inside a bigger historical set-up, mostly Alexander the Great crossed with the Borgias; but the balance is shifting back the other way in Volume II, with fantastical technology starting to drive the stories and to dominate the artwork. Sleek spaceships and battle tanks show the influence of TV’s Thunderbirds and pulp sci-fi, while one story is an explicit lean into HG Wells and The War of the Worlds, as a sinister red weed is seeded across the surface of the planet. Lawrence’s art hits its peak in this story, alien landscapes wrapped in scarlet tendrils, characters hacking through the foliage with axes and lasers.
The strip is squarely of its era and its British origins, without the urgency and sensual undercurrents of American fantasy comics, even the ones aimed at readers of a similar age. But then it’s drawing on a different tradition, as Lawrence’s classical figures and posed portraiture make clear. Rebellion presents that art and its elegant technique in the best manner available, although for some pages it appears that no pristine source has survived. As it happens, Volume II allows a sighting of Butterworth and Lawrence’s creations drawn by other hands, since it includes an eight-page story from 1968’s Ranger Book for Boys with art by Ron Embleton. A bit of artistic culture clash is inevitable: Embleton is a more mischievous caricaturist than Lawrence, with a thicker painting style creating a more dense and tense atmosphere than the crystal daylight illumination that Lawrence captured. But Embleton’s presence on Lawrence’s turf is a reminder of the deep artistic connections lurking in the British comics archives, and the history now being tapped in these reprints.
The Rise And Fall Of The Trigan Empire Vol.2 is out this week from Rebellion