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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rupert. 1970 Annual. Alfred Bestall Writer and Artist. Classic Media Distribution/Express Newspapers (2011)

Vintage nostalgia, beautifully packaged, this re-print is a a pleasure in its own right as well as for the effortless way it conjures with a never-never past. Rupert the Bear is a very long running strip in the Daily Express newspaper and a clever decision by someone has ensured that it has retained it popularity through the decades. Rupert has never changed in content nor format, the strip long ceased being old-fashioned and simply became itself. There are four large panels per page, each panel has a small caption which are are simple rhyming couplets, the lower half of the page has an extended text narrative for the action in the panels. In addition each page has a descriptive title. The simple and direct design of the pages means that the pages are neither cluttered nor crowded, they give the reader multiple options on how to read it without tripping each other up.
Rupert is a human like white bear who always wears yellow check trousers, a red jumper and a yellow check scarf, his friend, like Bill Badger, Edward Trunk are the same. They have safe but exciting adventures with inventors, magicians and bandits.
The context is a wonderful never-time, what was imagined the best possible childhood would look like early in the 20th century when the strip was launched. Looking it it today the unspoken attitudes of the creators and readers are vividly clear. There are no ethnic characters in the cast beyond a Chinese magician and his daughter, certainly no one with a dark skin. This is a very English, genteel and supremely middle class world. This is the very factor that should render it stale or vapid if not frankly offensive, yet it is the essential element that keeps it fresh and attractive. Rupert ceased having the slightest relevance or connection to the real world a long time ago, it is a museum piece in the truest sense. It is a call from another time and a window into another era. It retains it complete sincerity, a picture of the exciting, friend filled, adventurous childhood that many have dreamed of and desired.
Alfred Bestall's wonderful art is the heart of Rupert and it a joy to read, the panels are spaced widely enough on the page that each one is considered by itself as well as part of the progression of the story. Each one is carefully balanced with the need to convey the story and to stand individual attention. The details are simple and telling, they give a great physical context to the action. In particular I love the landscapes that Rupert and his friends move through, the shades of green and the variety of the ground is a delight.
The stories are nicely varied, neatly structured and engaging. Rupert is placed in enough danger or trouble to be interesting, the resolution comes from his kindness and courage, a return home to safety and friends is inevitable.
The pleasure of this book is to see again a long, golden afternoon of mystical childhood which never fades, where adventure is always around the corner just waiting for you.

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