Here is another chance to see an article that I co-wrote for 'Best of British Magazine' back in 2014...
Many may not know, but someone closely associated with the Daily Mirror had a special birthday last year, the big 7 0. Despite what you believe the powers of Botox and several face lifts to be, we don't mean Piers Morgan; we instead mean the space and time travelling hero GARTH! On July 24th 1943, a man of mystery with extraordinary strength, time travelling abilities and unknown parentage was born into the public eye. He first made his appearance in the Daily Mirror in the form of a comic strip. Many great writers and artists had a part to play in Garth's story, but one name towers above all others, that being John Allard.
In 1943 at just 15, John Allard, a young hopeful artist attending St. Martin's School of Art two days a week, sent in some samples of his work to the Daily Mirror. The editorial director Guy Bartholomew was impressed by his work. It was agreed that Allard would be Steve Dowling's assistant. Dowling was already working as an artist at the paper. The pair were to go on to enjoy an excellent working relationship, with John being allowed to draw more and more Garth as time went by. "Steve Dowling and I were a harmonious team," John remembers.
Steve and John as an artistic duo, along with writers Don Freeman, Peter O'Donnell and Jim Edgar brought the character to life, and many of their strips were well received. They put Garth's character through his paces, seeing him deal with a parallel world in which Hitler had won the war and even had him coming up against Jack the Ripper in the strip named, 'Night of the Knives'. It was also Peter O'Donnell that brought about Garth's encounter with the goddess Astra, who was to become the love of Garth's life. John mentions that the team were eager to add an element of mystery to Garth's overall persona, "Lumiere the scientist sends him back into the past with various incarnations but still does not find out his parentage and birth in his present incarnation," John muses.
The 1971 Garth adventure 'Journey to Fear' by Jim Edgar. Artwork by John Allard and colour by Martin Baines.
In 1969, upon Steve Dowling's retirement, John became the sole artist of Garth. However, his relationships with those behind the scenes were to be less peaceful than those he had previously enjoyed. "When the Mirror took on the editor Mike Malloy, who was an admirer of Frank Bellamy, Frank was appointed as an artist, and I was some sort of helper. Frank had never worked in tandem with another artist, and the situation was awkward." In the years that followed, Bellamy sadly died. John became the assistant to cartoons editor Charles Roger and became in charge when Charles was away.
John also assisted writer Jim Edgar from the late seventies into the early eighties and would often write scripts for the comic throughout the years. One such notable script was titled, 'Man on the Edge' which sees Garth, the seemingly invincible hero, crushed under a rock by 'The Great Beast'. The strip sees Garth having flashbacks of his life in his potentially final hours. It is this strip that many view as a tribute from John Allard to the muscular hero that had played such an important role in Allard's career. The strip which went to press in 1992 cleverly unified many different writers and artists ideas of Garth over the years.
John retired from the Mirror in 1993 but signed a further years contract to edit and write scripts. Several years later, when John's contract was up, it was decided that so was Garth's time with the paper. It was the team under the supervision of editor Piers Morgan that had the idea to axe Garth from the newspaper. John Allard sums up his time with Garth, "It was a job that I enjoyed doing which was agreed to be a success and involved me with generally friendly colleagues." However, despite being held in such high esteem by fans, artists and writers alike, John is modest about his impact on the strip, "I don't want to over-emphasise my link with Garth. The influential people were Steve Dowling, Don Freeman, Peter O'Donnell, Bill Herbert, Frank Bellamy and Martin Asbury," says John, speaking from his home in Colchester.
Whilst John is keen to underplay his impact, many fans and artists alike disagree, regarding John and his take on the time traveller as one of the most influential of the strip. Phil Harbottle, ex writer of the strip asserts, "Allard's contribution to the evolution of the Garth strip has been vastly under-appreciated. His initial pencil layouts were crucial to the success of Garth as the stories became more complex, spectacular and cinematic." Bill Storie, longstanding fan of Garth, started reading the strip from a young age and was immediately captivated by the art of John Allard. "It might not have been the most technical of art, but it really did imbue the strip with a certain atmosphere which I loved. All that cross hatching and dark shadows worked wonders with my imagination."
Many may not know, but Garth's time travelling abilities are a result of John Allard's influence. John had always shown a keen interest in history, and it was this hobby that would send the hero back through time, John explains in an interview with ex Garth writer Phil Harbottle, "One day in 1944 I was amusing myself by drawing yet another historical battle scene, when writer Don Freeman said, ‘If I sent Garth back into the past, do you think you could cope with the reference?' I responded enthusiastically, and Don went ahead and wrote 'The Seven Ages of Garth' story."
It wasn't just John's artistic and writing abilities that impressed those he worked with; it was also his personal character that made an impact. John was known for being well dressed, utterly charming with a good sense of humour and a devoted family man. John finally left the Mirror in 1994 but his life both professionally and personally far from slowed down. He has been very active with local Church and community matters and notes, "I have published articles on films and books amongst other things. I have also been to Australia several times." It seems that Allard has left his comic strip days behind him, "I am in a local art club, but strictly no cartooning," John laughs.
With Garth celebrating his seventieth anniversary and reprints of the strip being well received gaining a new generation of fans, there seems to be whispers of a revival in the air. Whether new Garth stories return to our newspapers or not remains to be seen and whilst his comeback will be welcomed by both fans old and new, John Allard's presence on the strip will most certainly be missed and definitely never forgotten. Phil Harbottle sums it up rather wistfully, "It was a tragedy for the strip when Allard, like all full-time Mirror employees were obliged to retire, his expertise were lost and once his controlling influence was lifted, the strip quickly lost its entire direction and appeal and was soon deservedly cancelled. Speaking for myself, Garth began and ended with John Allard."
Originally printed in the November 2014 issue 220 of 'Best of British Magazine'. Which can still be purchased from here: