Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Alfred Mazure's Romeo Brown

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?
Romeo Brown first appeared in 1954 in London's Daily Mirror, home of the grandmother of "girlie" strips, Norman Pett's Jane. Romeo Brown was a clueless private detective who fancied himself irresistible. His mysteries always found him surrounded by beautiful girls wearing clothes that never stayed on. The drawings were by Alfred Mazure, a Dutch-born illustrator with a long and interesting career both at home and in England. (I'll talk about his background in my next post.) Mazure drew the strip through 1957.

Romeo Brown is poorly-documented and its history is obscure. Many online sources credit writer Peter O'Donnell as co-creator with Mazure. This is clearly an error: O'Donnell began writing Romeo in 1956. No one seems to know from whom he took over. In an interview O'Donnell merely said he was offered the job because "the editor was dissatisfied." Given that Mazure had written his own scripts in the past, might he have been the original Romeo writer? Maybe, but several sources state that Mazure, after working with O'Donnell for a year, left Romeo to launch "his own creation," Carmen & Co., at a rival newspaper. If he'd been the original Romeo Brown author, wouldn't Romeo count as his "own creation"? At any rate, following Mazure's departure O'Donnell continued writing and Jim Holdaway took over the art chores. We all know where those two wound up. (One source said Holdaway had been Mazure's assistant, but I haven't found confirmation of this.)

In a 2002 online interview, O'Donnell described the strip thus: "Romeo Brown was a comic private detective, and my brief was that every story was to revolve around a girl or girls, and the more clothes I could safely get off them the better."

The Holdaway-O'Donnell Romeo Brown has gained a small international following, though reprints are few. It's too bad that Mazure's Romeo has suffered as a result. While Mazure's free, brushy style and Holdaway's sharp-focused penwork were worlds apart, both men were excellent cartoonists and both did a fine job on Romeo Brown.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the two artists' approaches was in posing. Holdaway developed a broad slapstick approach, while Mazure's work was always tempered by fashion-art elegance.  As we see in the present story, languid, long-legged realistic women co-exist with broadly-cartooned men. Romeo himself has a cucumber head and shoebutton eyes, while his adversaries' husbands--one a wizened alcoholic, the other a bloated bureaucrat--are so incongruous that the reader wonders what the girls see in them. However there's no question what their husbands see in them.

As a fan of both men's work, I'm reluctant to label one the "better" artist. All the same, I'd like to suggest that though Holdaway brought a more consistent, more exciting look to the strip, he never managed to best his predecessor in one area: drawing pretty women. Don't misunderstand me. Holdaway's beauties had great bodies. Their faces were cute. But Mazure could draw a face that was knock-down gorgeous. He proves it in this episode, especially with Pussy, the more free-wheeling of the larcenous ladies. Mazure knew he had a good thing going, and provided us a wealth of ravishing closeups. These faces showcase the best features of Maz' bold, free brushwork.

The following story begins with strip N208. British strips I've seen with letter/number identifiers use the letter to identify which story it is (A for the first story, B for the second, etc.) and the number to indicate where the strip falls within the story (so A1 is first story, first daily and E65 is fifth story, 65th daily). That doesn't seem to be the system here  "N" may mean the 14th story, but "208" must mean something else. Probably not the cumulative number of strips--that would yield an average of only 15 strips per story!

I have never found Mazure's work in English. This story came from an Italian fanzine called Wow. I translated their script back into English. But it's possible that the Italians shot their strips from a French reprint. In that case my approximate script is three generations removed from the original dialogue. But we're here for the pictures anyway, right?

Now that we've all admired these beautiful drawings, will someone please explain the talking neck shot in strip N218???!


Ger Apeldoorn said...

Od course much of mazure work was reprinted in Dutch. I could get you some samples. I didn't know about his year of Romeo, but this is not my area.

Richard said...

Regarding the letter/number identifiers, the Daily Mirror used these codes not to identify the strips by story but to indicate which edition of the newspaper they appeared in, to ensure that the strips were presented in the correct sequence. At this point in time, all the various strips in the paper would carry the same code on the same day. The number refers to the daily edition, with 208 indicating the 208th working day of the year, in this case 1st September. The letter changed each year, a policy that had begun with the letter A in 1942. They skipped the letter I (presumably to avoid confusion with the number 1) and got to N in 1954. So what you have here is in fact the very first Romeo Brown strip, which debuted in the Daily Mirror on 1st September 1954.