The Comic Creators Project at the Cartoon Museum in London has original artwork from The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire, more commonly known as The Trigan Empire. Currently on display in the Comic Art Gallery, we have a page with the original artwork done by Ron Embleton (Look &Learn, 1969), as well as the Dutch weekly Eppo cover that was created in 1979 by Don Lawrence.
During the time that the British Parliament passed the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act in 1955, and right before it was made permanent in 1969, parents could rest assured that the educational magazine Look & Learn did not contain any of the violent and horrifying comics that were said to tarnish children’s morality. Look & Learn was probably the only comic that was allowed in schools and libraries, as well as one of the few that parents bought willingly for their children. The magazine contained a combination of educational texts dealing with volcanoes, space, or the Loch Ness monster, visual adaptations of famous works of literature, serialized works of fiction, and a long running science-fiction comic strip called The Trigan Empire.
Originally published in Ranger on the 18th of September 1965, The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire became an absolute hit before it moved, forty weeks later in 1966, to Look & Learn. This boys’ adventure strip ran until 1982, which means that it delighted young audiences for 17 years through its 854 issues.
The main script-writer for this science-fantasy story was Mike Butterworth (1924-1986) and the artist chosen to give life to his stories was Don Lawrence (1928-2003). Although Butterworth continued as the main writer until 1982 with Ken Roscoe filling in afterwards, Lawrence left impulsively in 1976 after discovering that the strip had been widely syndicated abroad and that he was not receiving what he considered to be appropriate compensation for his work – despite having won an award sponsored by his publisher acknowledging him to be their finest artist. After Lawrence’s departure, a succession of artists produced the strips for The Trigan Empire. Ron Embleton, Miguel Quesada and Philip Corke had already stepped in over the years to fill in when Lawrence was on holiday, and they were called in to produce some of the strips after he left. That is until Oliver Frey, the first permanent replacement, took over. Frey continued drawing the strip until 1978 when Gerry Wood became the last artist to work on The Trigan Empire.
Interesting enough, when Don Lawrence left he was immediately hired by Eppo, a Dutch comic magazine . When Eppo bought the rights to print the Trigan Empire for a Dutch audience, they commissioned Lawrence to do a new cover in 1979, which now belongs to the Cartoon Museum in London.
Already in syndication, the short-lived Vulcan reprinted the Trigan Empire from the very first story. Unfortunately, Vulcan could not finish printing all of them since it was cancelled in 1976.
The strip was reprinted a number of times, first by Hamlyn Publishing in the United Kingdom under the title “The Trigan Empire” and by Chartwell Publishing in the United States with the early stories only. In 1989, Hawk Publishing printed a book called “Tales from the Trigan Empire” in hardback edition. Sadly, the Hamlyn and the Hawk editions had parts of the stories, and the artwork, cut off from the original comic.
More recently, in 2009, the stories of the Trigan Empire drawn by Don Lawrence were reprinted by the Don Lawrence Collection in luxurious hardback limited editions. Each volume contains over 90 pages in full-colour, printed on deluxe paper and partly bound in leather with full colour prints. These editions featured the stories as they were originally published, with the frames that were missing in the other reprints (like Hawk’s). What made these editions special is that they were not just scans of the Look & Learn pages, they were taken directly from the original artwork to which they have added a revised font to make it easier to read. In addition, many of the stories were given a new title, specially taking into consideration that Ranger and Look & Learn did not name any of their strips.
The Trigan Empire marked a before and after in the history of British comics for boys. Don Lawrence’s realistic and detailed artwork has influenced a generation of British artists and his impact can still be felt even today. Every Trigan Empire fan is still haunted by the beauty and excitement that this comic strip brought to them.
The History of the Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire
The story of The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire opened with a spacecraft falling from the sky and crashing into the Florida Everglades. When the craft was recovered, there were four dead aliens inside. They were humanoid but they were twice as large as a regular human being. The spacecraft and the aliens were intensely studied along with a rich database of historical records. One man, Richard Peter Haddon, spent all his life trying to decipher this alien language, finally succeeding after seventy years of hard work. The first record that he translated dealt with the founding of the Trigan Empire. It is then through Haddon’s translations that people were slowly introduced to the rise and fall of this alien empire.
The records told of a distant planet called Elekton (presumably the planet from where the aliens came from) where a war was about to break out between the technologically advanced Lokan race and its neighbors on the continent of Victris. The continent was broken up into five countries with Loka on the northwest, Daveli on the southwest, Theva in the northeast and Vorg and Cato on the southeast. Many nomadic tribes that lived in the deserts and the mountain passes of Vorg were being threatened with conquest by the Lokans, and the leaders of one of the small tribes came up with a solution: to bring together all of the tribes and create a city that would unite them and give them strength. The leaders of this tribe, and some of the heroes of the story, were three brothers: Trigo, a dreamer, Brag, a dilly-dallyer with little imagination, and Klud, a schemer.
It was under the leadership of the visionary Trigo that Trigan city was built in the plains of Vorg with great difficulty. His first attempt failed and the city crumbled upon itself. After a fateful meeting with the refugees of another group of people from Tharv, Trigo met the scientist and architect Peri who agreed to help him in exchange for sanctuary for him and his people. With Peri’s help, the mighty city of Trigan rose and he assisted the Vorgs when they were attacked by the Lokans. By capturing the Lokan air fleet, Trigo averted disaster, foiling the invasion. Afterwards, leadership had to be established and elections were held to choose which of the brothers would rule. The people decided to trust Trigo and Brag agreed to give up his right to rule in favour of his brother, but Klud refused. He actually tried to assassinate Trigo, an attempt that failed. In the end, Trigo made an alliance with the other great power in Elekton, Hericon, and he was crowned as the emperor. Taking into consideration that now the Vorg had a strong military presence in Victris, Trigo began to expand his empire, not through military strength but by offering protection to, and trade with, other nations. And so Trigan City became the hub of the new globe-spanning Trigan Empire. This empire was then characterized by Roman-like civilization with swords, lances and clothing (togas and Roman armor), but with high-tech ray guns, sleek aircraft and a high-tech navy. Later on in the story, the Trigans even created a spacecraft in months to fly to one of Elekton‘s moons (there were three: Seres, Gallas, and Bolus). Several of the other civilizations in Elekton also had a similar blend of both low and high-tech, all of them showing a great resemblance to ancient cultures from Earth.
It would seem that Trigo was a fair and competent ruler. He never sought to conquer by force, but he never backed off from a fight either. This was a good thing since the Trigan Empire would be under attack by spies, rogue states, the Lokan underground, alien invaders, etc. In time Trigo also got married and had children (sadly one of them fell under the influence of an alien bringing about disaster for all).
Because The Trigan Empire was so long, in order to bring something new into the story Don Lawrence and Mike Butterworth introduced Trigo’s nephew, Janno (son of Brag) and his two friends, Keran (the son of Chief Imbala of Daveli) and Roffa (from the City State of Ellul). The three of them were pilots in the Trigan Air Fleet and sometimes they worked together as a small army taking on a big share of the actual adventuring. In addition to these characters, one has also to mention Salvia, Peri’s daughter, and the most visible female character in the series. She was a skilled Tharvish healer and she used her knowledge well at the service of the Empire.
During the seventeen years that the strip was in production, the audience got to see the rise of Trigo’s empire (with plenty of continuity problems) and its inevitable decline. Throughout this time, Trigan City changed from a semi barbaric settlement, to a technologically advanced city with a motorized transportation system crossing the desolate plains of Vorg. Huge tower blocks were constructed in the city with villas sprouting all around the hills in the best Roman-style architecture. They were even able to develop nuclear power and space travel. As a matter of fact, the later stories, already under the pen of Ken Roscoe and other artists’ inks, became more of a galactic empire with many of the stories taking place off-planet.
We would like to thank Bear Alley, the Bronze Age of Blogs, and Wikipedia, for providing some of the information used to create this post. We would also like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting our work.
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