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Laughter lines wrinkled;Subject of the week;Reference books

DICTIONARY OF BRITISH COMIC ARTISTS, WRITERS AND EDITORS. By Alan Clark. British Library pound;40.

The study of comics in this country is still a youngdiscipline. Here is a biographical dictionary of those who made them: the often anonymous writers and artists who created Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace and their forebears, all the way back to Ally Sloper.

It is full of information, but it suffers from a curious disability. In order to look someone up in a reference book, you need to know their name. Given that most of the names here are unknown, how do you use the book? If you want to know who drew Roy of the Rovers, for example, you have to leaf through till you find a picture of the great footballer, and nearby you find that it was drawn by Joe Colquhoun (1927-1987).

And the column and a half on the artist may be informative, but it doesn't make the book any more use as a work of reference. This is strictly for browsing. Even here it sometimes falls down, because some of the entries are so short - one reads in its entirety: "Artist. Drew for T.V. Land (1960)" - that there's nothing to browse.

Furthermore, there is a carelessness quite out of place in any book of this sort. Typical is the page with a self-portrait of the artist Mike Western, signed thus very clearly, and captioned "Mike Western drawn by himself". In the column right next to it, the relevant entry is headed "Mike Weston", and the name appears like that three times more in the text.

In short, Alan Clark hascompiled a great deal of information, but it still needs putting in good order. The British Library should have found him a better editor.

Philip Pullman

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