Saturday, March 22, 2014

Treasure Island - adapted by Dudley Watkins

A few weeks ago one of The Broons trilogy of comics that was free in The Sunday Post showed a few pages from an adaptation of Treasure Island drawn by Dudley Watkins. I was intrigued about this and Down the Tubes editor Jeremy Briggs kindly sent me a spare copy of the book. (In exchange for which I've agreed to do a drawing for him. I haven't forgotten, Jeremy! Will do it this week.) Here are a few pages from that book.

Dudley Watkins (the original artist of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, and others) drew his adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in 1949 for serialization in the People's Journal, published by DC Thomson. He also drew adaptations of other classics for the magazine, such as Oliver Twist, Robinson Crusoe, and Kidnapped, and the stories were later collected into book form and published in the 1950s. In effect, these were precursors to the 'graphic novel', although all the dialogue appeared in the text beneath the pictures, not in word balloons.

The format of this Treasure Island book is a compact A5 size hardback with 124 pages. Although best known for Desperate Dan, Watkins was able to adapt his style with more detail for his adventure strips. The results are richly illustrated images that depict the story perfectly. 

My classmates and I read the prose edition of Treasure Island at junior school and the sequence with the dreaded 'black spot' had us so engrossed we immediately played out that scene at break-time in the playground. Pretending to keel over dead with fright seemed hilarious when we were eight.

I've always been amazed at the amount of high quality work that Dudley Watkins turned out, week after week. He really was one of the best comic artists we've ever seen.

Serialized reprints of Treasure Island began in The Topper No.1 in 1953, with added colour. Personally I prefer seeing the strip in black and white as intended.

The book also contained a few feature pages, presumably newly drawn for the collection, showing what a dangerous experience it would have been to encounter pirates.

Readers accustomed to Dudley Watkins' lighter adventure strips (such as Jimmy's Magic Patch) might have found this dark, grim adaptation quite a change, but I'm sure the atmpspheric, blood-curdling story would have them transfixed. It would be great if this Treasure Island book (and Watkins' other strip adaptations) were re-issued. The quality of the work is too impressive to be consigned to history.  


Kris Shaw said...

That looks fascinating. Someone should reprint it and TAKE MY MONEY!

David said...

Watkins' classics adapations (the four mentioned above plus "King Solomon's Mines", "Allan Quatermain" and "The Three Musketeers") were done in the late forties for serialisation
in a newspaper called the People's Journal. Sadly, those last three don't seem to have been given book collections.

I have all four books, and they're all beautiful

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks David, although I'd already mentioned the original serializations in The People's Journal in my article.

Colin Brown said...

Thanks for these scans Lew. I've seen the books advertised on ebay but never really seen the contents. I'd buy anything that DC Thomson would collect of Dudley Watkins' work. Already have the two big beautiful collections of Lord Snooty and Desperate Dan and the Broons / Oor Wullie annual hardbacks that have now stopped (though I'm sure there must still be some to be reprinted). Thanks to David for the info about the 3 uncollected ones, didn't know bout them.

Peter Gray said...

must look for this on ebay...amazing stuff..

Sawan said...

I remember reading this book from the library in our little town in Tanzania... must have borrowed and read it 20 times. For some reason the illustrations really brought out the story -- and now I understand why. Trying to look for a copy for my children. How on earth did a library in Africa end up with a copy??

Lew Stringer said...

Perhaps a donation from someone who read it on the voyage over to Africa? Or possibly D.C. Thomson books were exported overseas, as Fleetway did with their comics and annuals?

Sawan said... there a way to get my hands on a copy? Would dearly love to have one. ANy retails your could recommend?

Lew Stringer said...

It's long out of print of course, but all I'd suggest is keeping an eye on eBay.

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