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Creating the look of a legend - Why Robin Hood is a Graphic Artist's dream character!

Across the centuries, artists and illustrators have produced millions of images of Robin Hood, based on the picture they conjured up of him in their mind's eye! Although the mystery and speculation surrounding the outlaw's actual existence left artists with no "real" person to refer to - it also uniquely presented them with the gift of a "blank canvas" on which the freedom of their imagination could create and interpret the key characters and locations in their own personal, artistic style. The invention of the printing press and the later advent of moving pictures heralded an explosion of popular culture that imprinted Robin's story and graphic profile in hearts and minds all around the world, firmly establishing his iconic reputation as a global folk hero. The resultant artistic legacy was a vast gallery of illustrations, bounded only by visual imagination - so here are just a few examples of ways in which artists have pictorially captured Robin Hood in various aspects of popular culture.

The timeless popularity of the traditional Robin Hood tales ensured that new versions of the stories constantly appeared in books, newspapers and magazines, along with a selection of accompanying images and dramatic cover illustrations, often in colour. Certain illustrators developed their own distinctively recognisable graphic styles and artists such as Howard Pyle, Louis Rhead and N.C.Wyeth are famously renowned for their classic interpretations of the Robin Hood story and often also wrote the texts. Modern day book illustrators are also attracted to depicting the legendary outlaw, resulting in several successful collaborations with popular children's writers and Michael Foreman's drawings for Warhorse author, Michael Morpurgo's "Robin of Sherwood" and award-winning Graham Baker-Smith's illustrations for David Calcutt's "Robin Hood" are two fine examples of visually stunning contemporary artwork that help bring the stories to life. A really dramatic interpretation of the world of the Sherwood outlaw was also created by illustrator Clifford Harper and poet John Gallas in their hard-hitting work "The Ballad of Robin Hood and the Deer".

Robin Hood was one of the first ever "comic book heroes"! Originating from the type of black and white line drawings that illustrated early "Penny Dreadful" style books and magazines of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, publishers soon realised that the popular appeal of Robin's action-packed adventure stories with his band of Merry Men were much-loved, and ideally suited to the bold, graphic style interpretations of the comic book genre. Thousands of comic book-style publications have told the traditional Robin Hood tales in many different ways, including the USA's Classics Illustrated series; the weekly comic strip version by artist Frank Bellamy that appeared in The Swift during the 1950's; DC Comics longest running Robin Hood-styled super-hero, "Green Arrow" and a spoof feature of the Kevin Costner blockbuster "Prince of Thieves" movie in Mad Magazine.

The birth of the motion picture industry also recognised the power of the Robin Hood legend and studios around the world frequently interpreted and dramatised the story for both big screen and television productions. As the Hollywood publicity machine got into gear, many talented illustrators produced literally thousands of colourful posters that throughout the 20thcentury were displayed in cinemas in towns and cities the world over to advertise the wave of A and B feature films that would be "coming soon"! Printed using the lithographic colour process that was the backbone of the printing industry until the arrival of the digital age, they included many iconic Robin Hood film productions, such as the Errol Flynn 1938 classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and Walt Disney's 1973 cartoon version with the lovable fox and his friends playing the various Sherwood Forest characters.

Promotion and merchandising became key factors in successfully marketing the television series and blockbuster cinema productions through links to books, magazines, toys and games etc. so yet more illustrators were required to design the covers, boxes and packaging to appeal to the fans. Robin Hood images began appearing on all kinds of items and in the USA, the ITC "Adventures of Robin Hood" series, starring Richard Greene, capitalised on its huge popularity by using illustrations to promote the sales of a diverse range of products from hair tonic to bed linen! Here in the UK, the words to the popular theme song from the series were reproduced in the October 1956 edition of the Hotspur weekly boys comic, which also carried a full page Robin Hood illustration on the front cover.
The advertising industry phenomenon was taking off "big-time" and sowing the seeds for the celebrity style publicity that is now so much a part of everyday life. Local cigarette manufacturers, John Player and Sons even featured Robin Hood alongside the iconic sailor image that appeared on their Navy Cut brand packaging.

Green Arrow - The worlds longest running super-hero!

Having first appeared in More Fun Comics in November 1941, Green Arrow went on to even beat Superman and become DC Comics longest running comic book super hero. Depicted as former rich industrialist, Oliver Queen, who is forced into bankruptcy by an unscrupulous business rival, he turns himself into the Robin Hood-styled urban hunter known as Green Arrow and declares himself willing to fight for the weak and downtrodden, even when that cause sets him up against the establishment and the law! Operating in the US city of Seattle, Green Arrow is regarded as the world's greatest archer, who is also a superb hand-to-hand combatant and a brilliant hunter and tracker.

In one specific episode, he is even invited by an English solicitor to visit Nottingham to help investigate a client's death and the illustrator pictures some of the buildings in the city's streets as being a kind of "contemporary mock Tudor", alongside turreted stone towers!!
Green Arrow's continuing popularity also resulted in it becoming adapted as a 22 episode prime time drama series for Sky Television in 2012.