Publication Dates: 25 September 1976 – 20 March 1993
Number of Issues Published: 851 (#1 – #851)
Dimensions: Magazine size
Paper Stock: Newsprint
Publishing Format: Was ongoing
Information thanks to the Grand Comics Database
Roy of the Rovers is a British comic strip about the life and times of a fictional footballer named Roy Race, who played for Melchester Rovers. The strip first appeared in the Tiger in 1954, before giving its name to a weekly (and later monthly) comic magazine, published by IPC and Fleetway from 1976 until 1995, in which it was the main feature.
The weekly strip ran until 1993, following Roy’s playing career until its conclusion after he lost his left foot in a helicopter crash. When the monthly comic was launched later that year the focus switched to Roy’s son Rocky, who also played for Melchester. This publication was short-lived, and folded after only 19 issues. The adventures of the Race family were subsequently featured in the monthly Match of the Day football magazine, in which father and son were reunited as manager and player respectively. These strips began in 1997 and continued until the magazine’s closure in May 2001.
Football-themed stories were a staple of British comics from the 1950s onwards, and Roy of the Rovers was one of the most popular. To keep the strip exciting, Melchester was almost every year either competing for major honours or struggling against relegation to a lower division. The strip followed the structure of the football season, thus there were several months each year when there was no football. By far the most common summer storyline saw Melchester touring a fictional country in an exotic part of the world, often South America, where they would invariably be kidnapped and held to ransom. The average reader probably stayed with the comic for only three or four years, therefore storylines were recycled; during the first ten years of his playing career, Roy was kidnapped at least five times.
The stock media phrase “real ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff” is often used by football writers, commentators and fans when describing displays of great skill, or results that go against the odds, in reference to the dramatic storylines that were the strip’s trademark.
Roy of the Rovers first appeared on 11 September 1954, as a weekly feature in the comic magazine Tiger, debuting on the front page of the first issue. After 22 years of continued popularity, the strip was judged successful enough to sustain its own weekly comic, the eponymous Roy of the Rovers, launched on 25 September 1976. The comic ran for 851 issues, until 20 March 1993, and included other football strips and features. At the peak of the comic’s success about 450,000 copies were sold each week. There were also hardback annuals and holiday specials featuring a mix of reprinted and original content, and for a brief period, starting in 1986, Roy of the Rovers was serialised in the now defunct Today newspaper. These were all-new strips, focusing largely on the relationship between Roy and his wife Penny, rather than the action on the pitch. Between 1988 and 1993, a Best of Roy of the Rovers monthly comic was published, reprinting older stories.
Roy was created by the author Frank S. Pepper, who had created the similar strip, Danny of the Dazzlers, but he only wrote four instalments of Roy of the Rovers, because of his commitments to another of his characters, Captain Condor. His role was taken by the strip’s first artist Joe Colquhoun, who used the pen-name “Stewart Colwyn”. He was replaced after four-and-a-half years by Derek Birnage, the editor of Tiger, who had commissioned the strip. In 1960, in an attempt to whip up publicity, it was announced that the footballer Bobby Charlton had taken over as writer, although in reality it was still written by Birnage (who claimed that he did consult with Charlton occasionally for story ideas). The longest-serving writer of the strip was Tom Tully, who began in 1969 on an intermittent basis and then continuously from 1974 until the end of the weekly comic in 1993. Ian Rimmer became the main writer for the strip during the Match of the Day years, until the magazine’s closure in May 2001.
After Joe Colquhoun departed, he was succeeded first by Paul Trevillion, then by Yvonne Hutton, who illustrated from 1967 to 1974, before David Sque took over in 1975. Despite reportedly not being a football fan, he was responsible for one of the strip’s more definitive looks in its early ’80s period. He was replaced in 1986 by former 2000 AD artist Mike White, who gave Roy a more muscular look and the strip a more modern feel. Barrie Mitchell took over in 1992, with a style quite similar to White’s. A number of artists worked on the monthly comic, such as David Jukes, Sean Longcroft and Garry Marshall, in contrast to the lengthy tenures of the weekly strip’s creative team. Tony Harding often illustrated Roy for the Roy of the Rovers annuals and also drew the Roy’s Action Replay strip that appeared in All Action Monthly in the late eighties (Fleetway). Mitchell returned in 1997 as the sole artist of the Match of the Day strips for all four years.
Filmmakers Luke Dormehl and Tom Atkinson, released a documentary called “Roy” in 2008, featuring interviews with some of the key members of the Roy of the Rovers creative team. The film was shown at The End of the Pier International Film Festival in 2009, where it won the prize for Best Documentary Short.
Melchester Magic, 469,470
Annual 1961, holiday special 1985
Collection 1 1987
Holiday Special 1984
268,269, Annual 1991
Annual 1988,1989,1990,1992,1994, Eastern Promise