The Dragon Flag - a review

© D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd.

See The Victor issue 134 (14th September 1963) to issue 145 (30th November 1963).

Writer:- The Victor editorial team. Artist:- Ted Rawlings.

Main cast:- Ben Marlow, Jack Marlow, Monty Phipps, Hassan.

Time period:- South China Seas late 19th, early 20th Century.

This exciting serial tells the story of Ben Marlow a capable, well-respected sea-faring captain, who owns a ship ferrying cargo around the pirate infested waters of the East Indies. (These are the seas of South East Asia for example, the Java Sea. The country the Dutch East Indies is better known today known as Indonesia). His brother Jack, having finished with school has travelled to the Far East to join Ben on his schooner. On a trading voyage the ship is attacked by pirates sailing under the Dragon Flag in two prahuís (medium sized seafaring craft) and the two brotherís are captured. Ben is knocked out in the fight. Each prahu crew takes one of the brothers as a slave plus a half share of the goods being carried by the schooner. Ben on regaining consciousness is told what his and his brotherís future is, promptly escapes, in the process overturning a brazier, which sets the prahu ablaze. Jack and the other pirates by this time has long since sailed away.

Ben vows that he will search for his brother and at the same time wipe out the Dragon Flag pirates. He sets about fitting out an old steamship and hiring a crew of Malays. A young upper class Englishman, Monty Phipps (complete with a monocle and pith helmet), joins him in his mission. Phipps in appearance and attitude comes across as a typical upper class English twit. But appearances can be deceptive and Monty is more than capable of looking after himself and dealing with any pirates that unfortunately get in his way. Phipps with an assistant Hassan, are in charge of a gatling gun (a machine gun that fires bullets repeatedly without having to be reloaded). The gatling gun repeatedly gives them a deadly advantage over the pirates.

The series follows Ben, Monty and the shipís crew on their adventures.

The writers were members of The Victor editorial team whilst the artist was the ever dependable Ted Rawlings. Rawlings drew many of The Victor stories set in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The artist had a long association with D.C. Thomsonís providing artwork for the text comics that preceded the publisherís strip comics. Please see the image below Ton Up Tracy from The Rover comic. Rawlings is possibly one of Thomsonís longest serving artists.

Iím a big fan of his artwork (as for me), he had the ability to re-create whichever period the story was set in. Images from his Red MacGregor strips which I viewed as a youngster have remained in my memory over the years. He also drew a couple of Alf Tupper stories, one of which was called Edinburgh or Bust. Many of the pages he drew paid as much attention to the backgrounds as to the main characters and action in the foreground. I have very no information about Rawlings, but I would like to know more about this artist. Interestingly, he never drew any strips for The Hornet.

Alex Vella a Maltese reader of The Victor (the comic was sold in Malta, as well as many other former British Empire countries), and fan of Rawlings work has sent me a couple of pages featuring the artist. (see below). A Rawlings character appears in both pages. One page was drawn by Rawlings himself and the other page by Henricus "Harry" Farrugia. It would be interesting to find out why Rawlings appeared twice in strips and none of the other artists did. (Thanks to Alex for the scans).

Rawlings artwork for a text story for The Rover comic. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Rawlings artwork from The Victor issue 417 page 7. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Farrugia artwork from The Victor issue 447, page 21. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd

Pirates terrorising the South China Seas has always been a problem and continues to be one even to this day. The seas in this area (especially the Malacca Straits between Malaya and Indonesia) are major trading routes which attract pirates. The main countries in the area work hard at patrolling the waters using light, fast boats.

In the adventure below a dastardly Dragon Flag pirate has infiltrated the shipís crew and is set upon wrecking havoc. Will he succeed in destroying the ship, its crew and Ben's chances of ever finding his brother? This episode is from issue 136, 28th September, 1963.

Dragon Flag episode page 1. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Dragon Flag episode page 2. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Dragon Flag episode page 3. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd

© Adrian Banfield, 2008.