Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Frank Langford, Jack and Jill

 He She, Ho Hum
Today we see examples of a long-running but poorly-documented British daily strip, "Jack and Jill."  According to Lambiek it ran in the Herald and Sun tabloids, but I've been unable to determine just when. These strips were printed in translation in an Italian comic collection called Eureka Drink, dated 1975. Eureka was one of many 1970s Italian magazines reprinting both old and new comic strips from around the world. While Italian fan publishers were positively anal about providing publication dates for strips they reprinted, periodicals like Eureka almost never did. In fact they seldom gave much information about the features beyond the creators' names.

"Jack and Jill" was a daily gag strip featuring a young married couple. Jack works in an office; Jill stays at home. In the strip's first week they discover "the Pill didn't work" and Jill is pregnant. The jokes are divided between his office and her pregnancy. Around strip #230 Jill has twins. That's all I know because that's where the Italian reprint ends.

"Jack and Jill" was written by Les Lilley, a giant of British comics. The Independent's 1998 obituary called Lilley "...a scriptwriter of literally thousands of strip cartoons and gags...[and] a man who spent many years of his life endeavoring to promote that Cinderella of the comic arts in the public consciousness." Alone and with others Lilley wrote not just for comics but also for TV. He started the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain and became President of the Federation of European Cartoonists' Organizations. Among his countless projects, American fans may recognize "The Seekers," "Tiffany Jones," and "Scarth."

"Jack and Jill's" lovely drawings were by Frank Langford, a prolific English comics artist who didn't leave much of a biographical footprint. His best-known UK comics were TV-related strips like "Lady Penelope"  and "The Persuaders" and an s-f strip called "The Angry Planet." In the 1970s he drew several romance stories for DC Comics, probably the only time US fans ever saw his work. Langford drew a slew of advertising strips in the UK and apparently did movie posters as well. Langford appears to have died in 1998, the year of Les Lilley's passing.

In 2008 the Bear Alley blog hosted a long thread about Langford with input from the artist's niece, who provided much interesting information--including the fact that Langford was born Cyril Eidlestein but later changed his name.

Though Les Lilley was a fine writer, "Jack and Jill" was minor stuff with very lightweight gags. Frank Langford's artwork is definitely the strip's main draw.  Langford quickly developed a clean, figure-centered style. He seldom went in for elaborate backgrounds or dramatic effects, but that didn't hurt the strip. His men were handsome, his women beautiful, and his line elegant and assured.

Eureka Drink ran some 60 pages of "Jack and Jill." What follows are six typical pages. They've been re-translated from the Italian, of course, so heaven knows what the original dialogue was. At least you can get an idea what the story was about.