Felt Trips: “Thunder Lion” by Eamonn Murphy

Paper? Who needs paper? Some of our childhood artistic ambitions were so lofty they transcended the limitations of dreary old foolscap. We needed unfettered expression! So we left our drawings on school desks, on alluringly blank toilet walls and – in the case of Eamonn Murphy, growing up in 1980s Ireland – the pristine university lab coat of his older brother, Michael…

Over to you. Eamonn:

“Dundalk, North East Ireland, 1987. Shit. We lived in a three-bedroom terraced house on a council estate. Myself, my parents and eight siblings. The boys’ bedroom was like a small army barracks. Three sets of bunk beds, lots of noise, smelly mornings and even smellier socks.

My older brother Michael was the first of our family to go to university, the swot. He studied biotechnology, which sounded very exotic at the time, at the National Institute of Higher Education – which later became Dublin City University. A few months into his course, Mick arrived home with a very crisp and very white lab coat, and commissioned two young aspiring artists (me, aged 10 and Ronan, aged 5) to ‘pimp’ it for him.

The remit was simple: cartoon characters we loved, from both TV and print media. With the proviso that his personal favourites Hagar the Horrible, B.C. and Garfield had to be included. So, armed with pencils and markers, we got to work.

We can’t recall how long it took us, but we must have done it over a weekend when Mick was back from university. The comic strip requests were fairly straightforward: I remember being particularly pleased with how the Garfield comic panel on the breast pocket turned out, and being equally happy with some of the Hagar the Horrible drawings.

Of our own favourite cartoons, we plucked two cherished characters that also happened to be easy to draw: Bananaman, and Jimbo – from Jimbo & the Jet-Set. Our house was always more Childrens BBC than CITV, and because we lived only ten miles from the border with Northern Ireland, we picked up all the UK TV channels. I have friends from the south of Ireland who have no childhood memories of Mr Benn, Bagpuss, Look and Read or Tony Hart. Bosco, an androgynous puppet who spoke with an ear-piercing squeak, was the highlight of Irish children’s TV in the 80s. Grim.

Anyway, with Jimbo and Bananaman out of the way, we still had more coat to desecrate. But with what exactly? Our imaginations rose to the challenge, resulting in two original characters: Marvin and Thunder Lion, who we crowbarred in beside Bananaman. As far as Marvin is concerned, our memories are pretty hazy. His name may owe something to the fact that in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone – the first ever VHS we watched, and a perennial favourite – Arthur’s foster father, Lord Ector, repeatedly calls Merlin ‘Marvin’. Whatever his origins, he seems very much at home amid the general whimsy, an unobtrusive supporting character.

But Thunder Lion really makes his presence felt. Most likely an amalgam of Battle Cat from He-Man and the Thunder Tank from Thundercats, he’s the snarling harbinger of what was soon to become an all-consuming obsession: fantasy and science fiction, in all their forms. We adored Jimbo and Bertha, but it was Ulysses 31 and The Tripods that had us enraptured. We could laugh at Maid Marian and her Merry Men, but it was Robin of Sherwood that really struck a chord.

Add the gamebooks of Lone Wolf, The Usborne Book of Ghosts and the AD&D Monster Manual into the mix, and our sketchpads would soon become a smorgasbord of monstrous crossbreeds, sorcerer aliens, and fantasy maps that jigsawed together into super-continents. We made our own mythological Top Trumps and even wrote our own role-playing game. Thunder Lion was the herald of all that, bless him.”

Thanks, Eamonn! The picture above shows younger brother Ronan in the legendary lab coat, with the boys’ eye-rolling Mum looking on.

Oh, and here’s Bosco:

Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.

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