Phil Rushton talking about Phillip Mendoza at comicsuk forum
Post subject: Re: Treasure: Wee Willie Winkie visits Fleetway
Posted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 10:40 am
Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 10:56 am Posts: 2881
Great stuff Irmantas - Here's my tuppenceworth! (sorry about the duplication)
Following Leonard Matthews' retirement as Editorial Director of the IPC Juveniles Group in the late 1960s it must have come as a shock to his old colleagues when he immediately began putting together a brand new children's weekly for one of their main rivals: City Magazines Ltd., the publishers of TV Century 21.
During his time at AP/Fleetway/IPC Matthews had been a major innovator who introduced a brand new form of streamlined adventure strip to the pages of Knockout, as well as launching some of their most successful titles, including the Thriller Picture Library, Jack and Jill, Playhour, Princess, look & Learn and Treasure (not to mention a smaller number of brilliant failures such as Top Spot and Ranger). And in order to fill these ground breaking publications he spent much of his time recruiting a team of established artists from outside the world of comics - many of them already famous as top book illustrators. Because of the care he took over the look of his titles he quickly became known as 'the Artist's Editor' - inspiring intense loyalty in many of his own protégés as he repayed them with a paternalistic concern for their own welfare (though he could be less than generous with artists like the troubled Frank Hampson who came from outside his own stable).
As a result of these connections it's no surprise that Matthews’ new creation Once Upon A Time attracted a stellar line-up of contributors which easily outshone city's flagship TV21 - a comic that was by then entering into a period of serious decline after its own glory days of the mid-sixties. The early issues became a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of artistic talent which included Phillip Mendoza, Nadir Quinto, John Millar Watt, Jesus Blasco, Don Lawrence, Ron and Gerry Embleton, Angus McBride, H.M. Brock, Derek Eyles, Mike Hubbard, José Ortiz and many others - all of them turning out exquisite pages that were printed on the best full-colour photogravure presses available.
What’s more, the timeless nature of most fairy tales meant that Matthews and his editor (who also happened to be his wife) were free to re-adapt many of the familiar stories they’d previously used in Fleetway’s nursery titles without worrying about copyright. Thus, alongside Nadir Quinto’s ‘Cinderella’, Ron Embleton’s ‘Aladdin’ and Don Lawrence’s ‘Pinocchio’, the first issue also reunited Phillip Mendoza with the continuing adventures of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (along with a note that their story dates from antiquity and didn’t begin with Fleetway’s ‘Katie Country Mouse’!). However, as Katie herself was still appearing in Jack & Jill every week in tales drawn by Harold Tamblyn-Watts, this new version of an old character was duly renamed Winifred or ‘Winnie’ for short, while her town-dwelling cousin was now called Stephanie or ‘Steve’.
Apart from the changed names, the most obvious difference between Mendoza’s old ‘Katie’ stories and this new series was the fact that it used full-page illustrations accompanied by text instead of a picture strip format. Mendoza himself was now in his seventies and, according to some accounts, more often than not the worse for drink - all of which was reflected in his work. Gone were the delicate miniature watercolours and intricate penmanship of his earlier days; instead he now favoured bold, impressionistic landscapes painted in broad, opaque strokes with thick poster paint. Apparently it became necessary to ‘finish off’ his paintings at the office as he lost patience with niceties like panel borders and perspective, while messengers frequently had to be despatched to his flat in order to collect overdue artwork. But though the aging artist had undoubtedly lost some of his old skill and professionalism he had also gained something even more valuable.
To my mind Mendoza’s late paintings (many of which have a surprisingly dark, autumnal feeling) come closer than almost anything else I’ve ever seen in a popular comic to the condition of Fine Art. I confess that my initial reaction to ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’ was that its accompanying illustrations looked disappointingly crude when compared to the superficial brilliance of Ron Embleton or Don Lawrence, but the more I looked at those full-page images of mice situated in murky landscapes of giant puffballs and forests of grass the more I began to appreciate their sheer emotional power. And in addition to that I began to see the way in which the very paint had a physical quality comparable to canvases by Van Gogh or Turner - making me feel that it belonged alongside them in an art gallery rather than in the pages of a children’s publication.
This is the way all old artists should end their lives: not trying (and inevitably failing) to recapture past glories, but forever striving with all their might to conquer brand new vistas of artistic achievement.
As far as I can tell ‘The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse’ appeared in every issue of Once Upon A Time until it finally ceased publication in 1972. Phillip Mendoza died the following year.
(Meanwhile, the errant Leonard Matthews had settled his differences with IPC in order to launch an entirely new series of nursery titles for them - but that’s a story for another day...!)