'Daffy the Cowboy Tec', drawn by Leonard Matthews for Knockout (6 December 1947).

Leonard Matthews was a mid-20th century British editor and then editorial director for the other juvenile publications of the Amalgamated Press and its successors Fleetway Publications and IPC. He innovated existing comic titles like Knockout with cinematic adventure stories by a host of new artists and writers, and launched several new ones - in all sorts of genres - including Jack and Jill, Playhour, Look and Learn, Buster and Princess. Nicknamed the "Napoleon of Comics", he later operated his own company Martsprint, that produced publications for City Magazines. Early in his career, he drew the Knockout feature 'Daffy the Cowboy Tec' (1941-1948).

Early life and career
Leonard James Matthews was born in 1914 in Islington, South London. He had his first job with an an Italian carpet manufacturer and was then hired by the William Whiteley Limited retail company in West London's Bayswater area, where he was responsible for editing the store's house magazine. In 1939, he joined the Amalgamated Press, working as a sub-editor under Percy Clarke for the new Knockout magazine. Launched by the AP to compete with The Dandy and The Beano - two comic papers launched by DC Thomson in the previous years - Knockout featured a mix of humor and adventure strips and illustrated text stories. Matthews proved vigorous in his approach, as he quickly hired away one of DC Thomson's lead artists, Hugh McNeill. Joining Knockout in the first 4 March 1939 issue, McNeill contributed popular features like 'Deed-a-Day Danny' (1939-1954) and 'Simon the Simple Sleuth' (1939-1940), and stayed with the AP until his death in 1969. Leonard Matthews himself contributed to Knockout as an artist too, making the 'Daffy the Cowboy Tec' (1941-1948) feature, about a dumb Western lawman, nicknamed "The Woolliest One in the West".

'Daffy the Cowboy Tec', drawn by Leonard Matthews for Knockout (28 July 1945).

Editor in the post-war period
During World War II, Matthews served with the RAF. He compiled training manuals for the Air Ministry in London, and volunteered as a fire lookout. At one point, he saved the AP's Fleetway House offices from burning down during an air raid. After the war, he returned to the Amalgamated Press, where in 1948 he was appointed editor. He innovated Knockout's storytelling by swapping the traditional text-heavy puppet theatre-style panels with versatile and cinematic artwork, using different camera angles and perspectives, as well as close-ups and mid-shots. To alternate with the humor features, Matthews boosted the magazine with classic adventure stories, starring pirates, highwaymen and Wild West heroes. A skilled storyteller, he wrote the pirate serials about 'Captain Flame' (1948-1953), hiring the celebrated illustrator Septimus E. Scott to draw them. He also scripted adaptations of 'The Three Musketeers', drawn by Eric Parker, and of 'Dick Turpin' serials, with artwork by H.M. Brock and D.C. Eyles.

Shortly after his new appointment, Matthews was handed other AP titles to edit. In May 1949, the company acquired the publishing house J.B. Allen, including its comic magazines The Comet and Sun. As their editor Matthews gave them the same treatment as Knockout by replacing many of the classic humor strips with adventure content, starring characters like 'Battler Britton', 'Billy the Kid', 'Robin Hood', 'Kit Carson', 'Dick Turpin' and 'Jet-Ace Logan'. In the early 1950s, Matthews launched the digest-sized genre titles Cowboy Comics and Thriller Comics; the latter with historical adventure stories and adapations, including the Matthews-written 'Lorna Doone' and 'Quentin Durward'.

'Captain Flame', written by Leonard Matthews and drawn by Septimus E. Scott (Knockout, 6 October 1951).

Managing editor
During the 1950s, Matthews' role within the Amalgamated Press rose, working his way up to managing editor of the comics division until in 1961 he became Editorial Director of Juvenile Publications. In 1958, the Amalgamated Press was bought by the Mirror Group and renamed Fleetway Publications, after its Fleetway House office building in Farringdon Street, London. By 1963, two years after the Mirror also acquiring Odhams Press, the company continued under the banner IPC (International Publishing Corporation). IPC's policy was to continue launching new titles, mostly to outnumber the competition in the newsstands. Many of the less successful new titles were later merged into the most popular one within the same genre.

By the time he became managing editor, Matthews was also responsible for the nursery comics, launching the magazines Jack and Jill (1954), Playhour (1954) and Harold Hare's Own Paper (1959). In 1960, he established the popular comic magazine Buster, which continued for four decades. Other titles hitting the newsstands under the Matthews regime were Top Spot (1958-1960), a weekly for teenage boys, and Princess (1960-1967), a girls' title. Arguably his most important brainchild was Look and Learn magazine (1962-1982), a lavishly illustrated weekly with educational content for children. Inspired by the Italian magazines Conoscere and La Vita Meravigliosa, Matthews created a dummy issue and then handed it to John Sanders to edit. In September 1965, Matthews and Sanders launched another educational title, Ranger, most notable as the publication that originally carried the epic 'Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire' comic series by Mike Butterworth and Don Lawrence, but with an initial concept by Matthews. Already in 1966, Ranger was absorbed by Look and Learn, where 'Trigan Empire' continued its run.

Second issue of Buster (featuring the son of Reg Smythe's 'Andy Capp') and the ninth issue of Look and Learn (17 March 1962), featuring Leonard Matthews' favorite Emperor.

International network
Near the end of Matthews' tenure at IPC, the company also began international co-productions, for instance with the Dutch publisher De Spaarnestad on the girls' magazine Tina (1967) and the pre-school title Bobo Bunny (1968). Original editor and creator of the Bobo Bunny characters was Barbara Hayes, one of IPC's nursery comic editors and wife of Leonard Matthews since 1954.

To fill their many existing comic magazines and new launches, the Amalgamated Press and later IPC constantly had to expand their crew with new editors, journalists, writers and artists. During the reign of Leonard Matthews and his successor John Sanders, a large infrastructure for art production was set up. From the start, Matthews spent much of his time recruiting a team of established artists from outside the world of comics - many of them already famous as top book illustrators. Many UK-based comic artists worked through the local art studios Experimental Art and Central Art, but there was such a high demand, that the editors also recruited foreign studios. From Milan, the IPC titles worked with about 50 artists from the team of Piero Dami, a former stockbroker turned children's publisher. A similar amount of illustrators worked through Alberto Giolitti, a comic artist himself, who operated art studios in Rome and Buenos Aires. A great many Spanish artists that drew for the AP/IPC titles were associated with agencies like Jordi Macabich's Bardon Art, Josep Toutain's Selecciones Ilustradas and Luis Llorente's Creaciones Editoriales, several with offices in Barcelona and London.

In 1968, Leonard Matthews left his position of Editorial Director of IPC's Juvenile Group, appointing John Sanders as his successor. Matthews moved on to run his own company, Martspress, taking along some of his former staff with him. One of his first moves was to buy up a couple of older titles, among them Men Only, a pocket-sized pin-up monthly issued by Newnes. He continued it for a short time and then sold it to nightclub owner Paul Raymond. Most of the time, Martspress operated as a packager/production house for comics and juvenile publications. Among its main clients was City Magazines, for whom he packaged new renditions of TV21 and Lady Penelope - magazines built around Gerry Anderson TV series, like 'Thunderbirds'. For City, Matthews also created Once Upon A Time (1969), a high quality fairy tale story paper, for which he used his large network of artists and art agencies.

Issue #14 of IPC's Top Spot (24 January 1959) and first issue of City Magazines's Once Upon a Time (15 February 1969).

As one of the top editors at AP/Fleetway/IPC, Leonard Matthews was both praised for his editorial innovations and feared for his management policies. He was nicknamed the "Napoleon of the Comics", because he admired the Corsican-French emperor. Other than that, Matthews was short-sized, which naturally brought up even more comparisons with Napoleon (even though in reality, Napoleon wasn't a small man at all, a misconception fed by 19th-century cartoonist James Gillray's caricatures of 'Boney'). In his 2019 autobiography, editor John Sanders wrote that Matthews "was small, like the Emperor, and surrounded himself with half a dozen managing editors who were all six feet tall or taller, like the Emperor's Imperial Guard." The walls in his office had large gravure pictures of Napoleon on his campaigns, and he named his daughter Josephine, after Napoleon's first wife. Matthews' interest in Napoleon went this far that he refused to use the main line railway station at Waterloo, even though this was the nearest railway terminus to his Esher home.

As can be expected, the many company take-overs and mergers often caused unrest and friction among the personell of the acquired magazines. A detailed account of IPC's treatment of Eagle magazine - former flagship of Hulton Press - was given on the Downthetubes.net blog by former Eagle editor Roger Perry. Eagle was a high quality British comic magazine, most famous for having Frank Hampson's 'Dan Dare' comic on its front page, selling 800,000 copies every week. When in 1961 the Mirror Group took over Odhams Press - that already owned Hulton Press - group editor Leonard Matthews also became responsible for the Hulton titles Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin. His bold mingling in the editorial content and the appointment of Peter Stephens as Deputy to the Managing Editor of the Eagle group - seen many as a Matthews workfloor spy - created bad blood among the former Hulton editors. It all came to blows during a 29 August 1961 meeting, when - as Perry wrote - Matthews informed the Eagle staff of his new "law", involving major cutbacks in the artwork. Since high quality artwork was Eagle's spearhead, this caused anarchy and mayhem among the staff, resulting in a mass "walk-out" of many of the magazine's editors and art directors. In the following years, Eagle suffered a drastic fall in quality under its new IPC owners. Within months, the comic's circulation fell to 150,000, and continued to drop until in 1966 it was finally merged into its former rival, IPC's Lion.

Final years and death
Over the years, Matthews's operations lessened. His company continued production, mostly for children's books. Leonard Matthews died in Esher, Surrey, on 9 November 1997.

'Eagle Daze: The Life and Times of Leonard James Matthews' by Roger Perry on Downthetubes.net

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