Monday, January 10, 2011

Celebrating Rupert's 90th

I have developed a minor obsession with the layout of the Rupert Bear annual, a favourite of my childhood. I've mentioned before the parallel layers that suit different readers (and I have written a short piece for Eye magazine to be published this month). Last year was the ninetieth anniversary of Rupert, and it's been marked by one or two publishing events.

The Life and Works of Alfred Bestall: Illustrator of Rupert Bear is the biography of the longest serving of Rupert's creators, by his god-daughter, Caroline Bott. His archives are going to the Bodleian in Oxford, who recently put some of the work on display. It is very much a biography of the man – very interesting, but Rupert is only part of the story, and little is revealed about the origin of the layout.

More informative about this is The Rupert Companion, by Ian Robinson, one of the last of Rupert's editors. This is a wonderful book, designed by Faye Dennehy in a generous format that allows the illustrations to breathe. It's very readable and takes us through the whole story from Rupert's originator, Mary Tourtel, to Bestall, and more recent editors and illustrators. I hadn't realised that it was the sale of the Daily Express, where the Rupert strip appeared, to Richard Desmond that finally did for Rupert in 2002, although old stories continued to be recycled.

The layout I've been celebrating dates from the Rupert Annual of 1936, and was the responsibility of the Daily Express's children's editor, Stanley Marshall. Mary Tourtel had written four lines of verse under each drawing, but Alfred Bestall found that rather challenging and moved the format of the daily strip to prose. This also meant he could develop better dialogue for the individual characters. But in the annuals Marshall included both prose and verse, now in rhyming couplets.