The most often asked question is ‘Why do you do it? Why do you devote time to illustrating comic strips?’

Call it an occupational hobby.

The second is… ‘When will you stop?’

Well I haven’t since, as a toddler, I picked up my first wax crayon and drew flowers on the pastel coloured paper they gave me in primary school.

And thirdly… ‘What made you start in the first place?’

I never intended to produce an illustration strip of the Avengers. In an idle moment on the drawing board I created a banner, the title strip used at the head of a comic strip to identify it. There was Steed, a rough caricature, smiling at Emma while she smiled at the viewer. It looked like it needed some text so I scanned it into the computer and in Helvetica Condensed added ‘The Return of the Avengers’. (I now know it should have been Haettenschweiler font.) And that was that. Only, as you can see from this now expanded site…it wasn’t.

Why did I choose ‘the Avengers’? Why are these stories in the format of a weekly English comic? To answer this I must go back to the 1960s.

I was bought up in the rural flat lands of north Lincolnshire on the bleak East Coast of Britain. The land is steeped in deep history. There are 11th century Norman churches in every village; Viking Berserkers landed their longboats on the open defenceless dunes and Romans built the Fosse Way. In the fields around us flint axes and spearheads from the Neolithic age were often bought to the surface by the churning of the plough blades. This was certainly the first serious impression of my childhood; we were children in an ancient world.

It was because of this bygone rural setting that television in the 1960s played such an important part. It gave us a view of ‘elsewhere’ and a view of ‘now’. And we took the teeming ideas that flowed from this black and white theatre into the playground and countryside games.

The American Westerns had always been difficult for us to play. Unless we could find a large ploughed field, dusty in mid summer, we couldn’t imagine prairies, ranches or overland wagon trails. Steed and Emma of
‘the Avengers’ on the other hand fought diabolical masterminds in a landscape that existed beyond our garden gate. Deserted railway stations; farms whose hayricks could be hiding a ‘Man-eater’; waterlogged meadows which had suffered a surfeit of H2O; churches with graveyards whose tombs could be the entrance to an invasion force; deserted wartime RAF bases and the dune barriers looking out into a grey North Sea.

There was another door into imaginative worlds for us children of the 60s. Britain was basking in the glorious Golden Decade of comics. Eagle, TV21, Ranger and Look and Learn to name but a few. For the price of seven old pence you could hold in your hands a comic displaying the brilliant work of Frank Bellamy, Frank Hampson, Mike Noble, Ron Embleton and Keith Watson; each weekly comic running six or seven major story lines. The format comprised of two pages an instalment every week. The first would open with a large frame, the cliffhanger from the last instalment. By the end of the second page a new cliffhanger had been created. And in the final frame was the teasing, exciting but also frustrating ‘To be continued…’ And of course it was, week after exciting week with some stories lasting several months.

In summer we got the Holiday Specials, one-off comics with several complete stories. As Michaelmas Term arrived with the east winds, the Annuals began to appear on the bookshelves. These were hardback, large format books dedicated to one comic or even one character.

It was natural for these two art forms to merge. What we enjoyed on television we could read in TV21 or
TV Comic.

Both ‘the Avengers’ and the best of the comics ended in the last summer of the sixties. And we all moved on… or so we thought.

In the spring of 2003, recuperating from a kidney stone operation, I whiled away my convalescence with a nostalgic recreation of a 1960’s Avenger weekly story strip. (A sort of strip that never was.) It was great returning to the imaginative fields of my childhood and remarkably good for my health. By the time I was back at work the strip was only eight pages long. I felt it needed an ending so it became a hobby. Only one story wasn’t enough… there were more to tell.

And that’s when the e-mails began to arrive and I began to realise just how popular ‘the Avengers’ still was and not just in Britain. I began to get messages from Honolulu to Montreal, New York to Tokyo.

From those first tentative frames the site has grown quite large now. The project, once leisure sketches on the edge of the drawing board, has slowly integrated itself into the general workflow of my studio. It now sits along side commercial jobs and commissioned projects, demanding more time than it should probably be allowed. It also shares the facilities of a modern studio, the tools of the new technology. From watercolour on stretched paper it has progressed to experiments with industry standard 3D software.

I enjoy the feedback, ideas and encouragement and I’m always open to new suggestions.

I hope you enjoy these glimpses into Avengerland and remember… keep a watchful eye open for diabolical masterminds on the way!

Ian Duerden
March 2008

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