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It's That Sheep Again: the Bee salutes Vern & Lettuce

By Philip Reeve.

It's always a shame when a favourite post is finally nudged off the bottom right hand corner of the Bee's front page, and I was particularly sorry to see my conversation with Sarah McIntyre go.  But fear not; not only will it be available in the archive for as long as there are pixels, but this week marked the official release date of her collected Vern and Lettuce stories.

These started life as weekly one-page strips in the DFC or David Fickling Comic, a publication which seems to have collected together a startling number of excellent writers and artists, but which sadly only lasted for 43 issues.  (Partly, perhaps, because it had the worst title of any comic ever.  David Fickling is famed within the worlds of publishing and children's books as a lovely man and a creative powerhouse, and young readers may recognise him as the publisher of top children's author and Radio 4 Rent-A-Gob,  Philip Pullman.  But I don't think children are much interested in publishers, whatever publishers may like to believe, and I can't see why they'd want a whole comic named after one.  Would the Beano have survived all these years if had been called The DC Thompson & Co. Comic?)

Anyway, the DFC may be dead, but the strips to which it was once a home go marching on in the form of some very nice TinTin-format hardbacks called The DFC Library, and one of them is the lovely Vern and Lettuce.  Vern is a sheep who lives in a tower block and works as groundsman (or groudssheep) in Pickle Rye Park; one of his neighbours is Lettuce, a rabbit, and her family of bunnies.  It's all very charming without ever going anywhere near twee; the drawing is elegant and witty, but simple enough to make children want to copy it.  In the first part of the book each page is a separate little story, often concerning Vern's attempts to keep the moles off his lawns; later on a kind of story-arc develops, linking the episodes into an adventure in which Vern and Lettuce embark on a misguided attempt to qualify for a TV talent show and end up confronting a maniac pigeon who plans to smother London in poo.  Sarah MacIntyre's writing delights children and keeps grown-ups chuckling, too, and she's not above throwing in a Lord of the Rings reference at a particularly tense moment.  Her palette is lovely as well; slightly autumnal oranges and violets, with a faded, textured look, harking back to Great Picture Books of the Past Which I Can't Quite Put My Finger On.  (Perhaps that's because it doesn't really look like any of them, it just looks as if it belongs with them.)

So if you know anyone who's young or young-at-heart, your Christmas present buying worries are at an end; the only thing wrong with Vern and Lettuce is that it's too big to fit in a stocking.  I'd suggest you hang up a pillowcase this year instead.

Other titles in the DFC Library are Spider Moon by Kate Brown, Good Dog, Bad Dog, by Dave Shelton (I was at college with him!), Mezolith, by Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank (too scary for me), MO-BOT High by Neill Cameron, and Monkey Nuts by the Etherington Brothers.  More details can be found on this here David Fickling Books website.

More about Vern and Lettuce themselves here.


Sarah said...

Hurrah!!! Thanks so much, Philip!

Dave Shelton said...

Surprised you remember me, Philip (though the happy memory of the Charles Atlas Sisters at the Queen's Head, Brighton - I think - lives on for me).

Just thought I'd mention that it's Neill Cameron who wrote and drew Mo-Bot High. A very different chap to Neil Hamilton!

Philip Reeve said...

Thanks Dave; I don't know where I got 'Neil Hamilton' from; I've changed it now.

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