On this day, 27 October 1973 … In what must have been quite a coup for the editorial team on Cor!!, in 1973 TV’s The Goodies signed to the comic, and appeared in 52 double-page episodes throughout the year. The Cambridge Footlights-originated trio of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie were hot property in the 1970s and stars of their own comedy show which ran for the entire decade. It was an imaginative and hugely popular show, each episode of which followed a very basic theme, quest or challenge for the Goodies, who would often travel about on a three-seater bicycle, to interpret with increasingly surreal and bonkers results. This format lent itself well to adaptation in comic strip form, and the brilliant Joe Colquhoun – better known to us now for his work on Charley’s War, Johnny Red and Roy of the Rovers – demonstrated an accomplished cartooning style to bring the goody goody yum yum threesome to life.
On this day, 25 October 1980 … This was the final edition of Speed, its ‘Big News Issue!’ headline announcing that the following week it would be folded into Tiger, taking with it lead strips Death Wish and Topps on Two Wheels, while Speedboy Tim Barlow would join Billy Dane’s school team in Billy’s Boots. Motor racing tale Winner would be concluded as part of Tiger’s File of Fame series, and Flash Jordan of The Fastest Footballer on Earth would join The Marks Brothers in Roy of the Rovers comic. It was the end of the line for reader-participation strip The £1,000,000 Challenge, and the promising but extremely short-lived Supersmith suburban superhero story.
I had read Speed since its first issue and, despite not being an especially sporty type, had really enjoyed the comic over the spring, summer and early autumn of 1980. It had been my first non-humour comic, so I think I associate it with a time of growing up a little bit and engaging (aged 9 and 10) with more mature storytelling. The takeover by Tiger was my first experience of having been on the ‘losing’ side of a merger and I don’t recall being particularly upset – more intrigued – although looking back at Speed now I do feel a note of sadness that it ran for only 31 issues. In tone it was very much an old-school comic, with relatively clean-cut heroes (bad boy Trevor Watson of Winner! was an exception to the rule) who had clear goals in life: to be the fastest (Speedboy) or to achieve the ultimate thrill (Death Wish), but it was produced to a high standard and was my first introduction to such excellent artists as Mike Western and Eduardo Vanyo, John Gillatt and Mike White. May its memories never decelerate!
On this day, 23 October 1976 … All of a sudden, IPC’s boys’ adventure range was reduced from three titles to one. While Action was being withdrawn, temporarily, from service, two of its stablemates were getting it together. Valiant, no longer quite ‘Britain’s top adventure paper’ (or perhaps it was once again, by default and very briefly, given Action’s travails), ended after fourteen years – many of which, in the 1960s, had been quite glorious – despite a late, valiant attempt to turn things around by its final editor John Wagner. It was merged into Battle Picture Weekly, which in its first eighteen months had begun the process of redefining and reinvigorating the British comics scene and was to a large degree responsible for Valiant’s decline.
I’ve written before about my secret fondness for a good merger issue, while recognising the agonies felt at the time by readers of the vanquished title, and this one must have generated a fair bit of excitement at the time. I love the drama of the front cover, with all its flashes and arrows and captions and the free gift. Inside there is a very satisfying introductory page listing all the stories that made it into the merged issue, and there’s an attempt to placate disgruntled readers with an opportunity to win all manner of chunky seventies gadgets. I like the ‘Don’t miss it, lads!’ plug for the second part of the ‘Breakthrough!’ poster that will follow next week.
Of the stories, the Battle brigade is represented by Major Eazy, D-Day Dawson, Darkie’s Mob and The Bootneck Boy, all of which continue from where their previous weeks’ episodes left off, with little establishing re-cap for new readers. There is one new story, Panzer G-Man by Gerry Finley-Day and Geoff Campion, which, rather like Action’s Hellman of Hammer Force, attempts to show the humanity of war by taking a German WWII soldier as its hero.
The three strips that made it over from Valiant (along with Captain Hurricane, who has been relegated to managing the letters page) are each given more of an introduction. Soldier Sharp begins with a re-cap of The Rat of the Rifles, Corporal Arnie Sharp’s various character flaws: Cowardice!, Cunning!, Violence!, Theft!, while The Black Crow features a very brief introduction to the members of the Crow’s French resistance cell. One-eyed Jack (with, I believe, Scott Goodall taking over the scripting from John Wagner) makes more of a fresh start. Jack McBain’s run in Valiant ended with his leaving the NYPD, and in Battle starts with a decision to start a lone campaign to take down communist terrorists on US soil. His story begins with an extended flashback to his service in the Vietnam War, presumably to establish his military credentials and justification for Valiant’s best strip to make the move into Battle Picture Weekly.
On this day, 23 October 1976 … There is a legend of a comic written, drawn and printed in the riotous autumn of 1976, which was so despicable, so packed with violence and blood and guts and punks that it was deemed unfit for juvenile eyes and impressionable souls. As 200,000 copies of this profane publication rolled off the presses, the wise guardians of our proud nation’s hearts and minds gathered together and decreed that no single issue should be allowed to reach the newsagents nor the letterboxes of any city, town or village. Every copy of the dread-ful comic was recalled from the distributors and destroyed, in great pulping machines of righteousness. Except … except for 30 favoured units, which were saved from pulpy doom that they might serve as a reminder of great editorial irresponsibility and the terrible dangers of providing ignorant readers with what they wanted. These comics were entrusted to 30 sentinels, who carried them to secret locations in far corners of the world, where they would remain hidden for nearly forty years until the heroes of more enlightened times might bring them back to civilisation.
This comic, of course, was the 37th issue of Action – produced but never published as IPC self-imposed a ban on the Sevenpenny Nightmare in response to an astonishing campaign of national media outrage at the comic’s excesses. Close to a couple of hundred thousand copies were indeed printed and then pulped, but not before a few advance copies were distributed to company staff (possibly even not as many as 30, as legend once had it). Just how many of those precious issues have survived until today is not known. Former 2000AD art editor Robin Smith had one, and I’ve seen a collector on Facebook admit to owning a copy; then of course there was the copy which comics dealer Phil Shrimpton sold on eBay last year, for an astonishing price of £2555, on behalf of a former print worker who had kept it safe from the pulping maws. My tenuous link to this piece of comics history is that I was the first bidder in this auction: I saw the listing, stifled a gulp, then – very, very gently and quietly, lest my neighbours overhear, tapped in an opening bid. I can’t remember how much I offered – an embarrassing couple of hundred quid, I think, which was more than I could reasonably afford anyway – but for an extremely short period of time it was mine! My precious. And then the heavyweights turned up and I was out of my league.
The full story is here. While most of us will probably never see this legendary issue of Action in its original paper form (how about a special edition reprint, Rebellion?), I’m delighted to say that Phil has allowed me to post some of the photographs he took of it before placing the comic on sale. It would have risked damage to issue if he had scanned it, so these are photos only and it’s a little difficult to read all the text but nevertheless a joy and a privilege to be able to see some of these long-lost pages at last.
One wonders exactly what it was that led to the decision to ban Action at this point in time. As this issue was recalled from the distributors, I’d originally assumed that there was something in the comic itself that caused IPC’s management to panic. The episode of Hook Jaw looks to be especially dramatic and horrific, with the shark dragging a Navy helicopter into the English Channel before hunting down pilots and divers and eviscerating them in ghastly manner. Death Game 1999 also looks particularly violent, drawn by Massimo Belardinelli. But, as noted by Moose Harris from the Sevenpenny Nightmare website (reported on John Freeman’s Down the Tubes last year), the content of this issue had already been toned down before going to press. I guess that there was a particular pressure or final demand – from one of their most important retailers or distributors – that came in just at the point between printing and distribution, leaving IPC feeling they had little choice but to abandon the 37th issue.
EDIT: Thanks to Matt Pearson on Facebook for pointing out a rather obvious point I'd missed: the splashing of 'SUICIDE' all over the front cover. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that played a big part in the decision to have it withdrawn.
Take a look for yourselves, and let me know what you think. Please also, by way of thanks to Phil, take a look at his fantastic online comic shop – I believe there are a number of his auctions closing tonight. I have bought a great deal from him over the last couple of years and his comics are always in lovely condition, sent safely and promptly. He has a knack for finding some rare items so do save him as a favourite seller. Who knows – maybe you’ll get lucky and win another copy of the lost Action if one should ever come into his possession again.
All photos taken by Phil’s Comics and used by kind permission.
On this day, 22 October 1977 … ‘“Laugh at Life!”, that’s my motto,’ announced Cheeky, at the start of his very own comic. And laugh we still do. There’s something infectiously brilliant about Cheeky. I’ve written before about its problematic aspects but there’s so much energy, so many quick-fire gags, such mischief and optimism and ingenuity, that it remains a joy to turn back to whenever its turn on the ‘On this day’ schedule comes around.
‘There’s never a dull moment, I can tell you – I’ve got people to meet, stories to read and telly and films to see, so tag along … just for a laugh, and let’s get on with the goodies!’ OK, Cheeky! So what have we got in this first issue? Plenty of activity on the streets and doorsteps of Krazy Town, as Cheeky introduces us to characters who would go on to be weekly favourites in just two or three panels at a time: Walter Wurx, Baby Burpo, Lily Pop and Ursula the Usherette – they’re all here, and many more. The huge cast of locals that populated Cheeky’s Week were an important part of the comic’s vibrancy, and to celebrate its birthday I’ve created a special gallery of the many ‘Pin-up Pals’ posters by which they were catalogued.
Cheeky’s strong roster of back-up strips kicks off with Mike Lacey’s Skateboard Squad, Ian Knox’s 6 Million Dollar Gran (which Cheeky watches after school on Mondays), and Reg Parlett’s Mustapha Million (which he reads in the secretive Mystery Comic found each week at a different place in the town). Episodes of Wile E. Coyote and John Richardson’s Space Family Robinson are on show at the Krazy Town picture house, and Cheeky reads chapters of two surprisingly dark books: James Bold in Fangs of Fear (with macabre Massimo Belardinelli art) and a Mike Brown Creepy Sleepy Tale in which Little Miss Muffet’s spider eats his way through a cast of fairy tale favourite characters. What a cheek!
Central to the concept of Cheeky the comic was the huge supporting cast that populated Cheeky the character’s home town. Each issue of the comic was structured around the days of Cheeky’s Week, in which he would tread a familiar path around Krazy Town – delivering the newspapers, popping into the local newsagent, attending school and the Saturday morning movies – trading gags with all his buddies.
Over the course of Cheeky’s 117 issues, 31 of these colourful characters featured as back-page Pin-up Pals. To mark the cover date of the comic’s first issue, I’ve scanned the lot of them. I wonder how many of us cut these out posters and blu-tacced them to our bedroom walls. The collection serves not only as a lovely dollop of nostalgia, and testament to the incredible talent of artist Frank McDiarmid whose zany, irrepressible style is inseparable from our memories of Cheeky, but as a snapshot of the sense of humour, hobbies, stereotypes and attitudes which surrounded kids of the late 1970s. Some great, some not so great: from skateboards, TV and calculators to sexism and casual national stereotyping, it’s all here, chums!
Sadly the Pin-up Pals collection doesn’t cover the entire cast of Cheeky’s Week. The masterful curator-blogger of Cheeky, Niblet, has counted 87 named characters, listed here.
In addition to the regulars of Krazy Town, Cheeky ran nine other Pin-up Pals featuring the stars of the comic’s standalone strips (drawn by other outstanding IPC artists). I’ve included scans of these wonderful creations too – not strictly part of the regular cast, some of them (Skateboard Squad, Calculator Kid and Paddywack) were residents of Krazy Town and did appear in Cheeky’s Week from time to time). Frustratingly, I’m missing one Pin-up Pal, that of Mustapha Million from the issue dated 5 November 1977. EDIT: Now complete - thank you Bruce Laing and Peter Gray!
On this day, 21 October 1978 … Here is another beautiful and instantly recognisable Misty cover by the late Shirley Bellwood, whose work has received much deserved, if overdue, retrospective attention this year following the sad news of her passing, and also because of the release of Rebellion’s Misty collection. Her covers always display exceptional, elegant linework, dramatic colours and an incredibly arresting engagement with the reader through those beautiful, knowing, mysterious eyes of the supernatural mystic of the mists.
This issue gives me the chance to mention some very interesting comments by Pat Mills, who formulated the concept for Misty and was the comic’s consultant editor, on a recent 2000AD Thrill-cast podcast in conversation with Michael Molcher. While acknowledging that Shirley’s covers helped to create a strong identity for Misty, if he had been its full-on editor he would have looked to create a less ‘ethereal and romantic’ identity. This would have been based on the nature of reader feedback IPC were receiving in the late 1970s:
‘The mood at that time was quite ballsy; it was quite kitchen sink. It wasn’t North London, it was downmarket, and I think we should be proud of that. Shirley Bellwood made [the ethereal and romantic approach] work; she was the exception to the rule. But [in what feedback told us readers preferred] there was this down-to-earth quality – a Grange Hill quality – and that could apply to horror as much as to a small boarding school story or anything else. Not trying to be too away with the fairies, if you like.’
What Pat says makes a lot of sense (and that’s not to criticise Shirley’s incredible work at all – echoing what he said, it only adds to her credit that she created such iconic covers going against the trend), and reading through Mistys such as this issue I think it’s true that part of the appeal of most of the stories is their more character-led, gritty, ‘normal folk in extra-normal situations’ feel. The Cats of Carey Street was a great serial, about a pack of street moggies helping a girl and her gran fight back against the local council’s plans to demolish their home street. There’s little as satisfying as the sight of avenging felines fighting tooth and claw against The Man – check out below that frame of the cats attacking the construction workers! End of the Line … is another serial with an urban feel, about a streetwise girl who discovers a dark Victorian world beneath a abandoned tunnel of the London Underground.
There are two ghostly stories and a vampire story – always with a strong female lead character – in Midnight Masquerader, The Ghost Writer and Fangs for the Memories respectively, and, in Two of a Kind, a great one-off murder tale starring identical twins Dana and Erica which easily matches the plot of a Saturday night episode of Thriller or Tales of the Unexpected.
Finally, thanks (for the story credits) and a special recommendation for Julia Round’s recently launched Misty Searchable Database – a comprehensive listing of every Misty story including creator details (where known), issue numbers and story synopses.
On this day, 20 October 1979 … This issue marked a new look for Penny, the short-lived girls’ comic that ran for 49 issues between the springs of 1979 and 1980. As issue number 26, it’s a pleasing coincidence (for those people – like me – who take pleasure in unusual numerical coincidence) that it marks the start of the second half of the comic’s run. From this issue onwards, Penny was printed on a cheaper paper and had a slightly wider format, but the most obvious change was in a move to artists’ covers rather than photographic designs. It’s a purer comic, in my opinion.
The stories are all engagingly told, with some lovely artwork, and generally tell tales of slightly younger girls than were the subject of adventures in Tammy, Jinty and Misty at this time. All the evidence suggests that Penny was aimed at a younger readership.
The Deliverers is the first strip, about a squad of newspaper deliverers hired by a newsagent to keep an eye on suspicious goings-on in the neighbourhood. Sad Sal and Smiley Sue is about two friends who are ‘as different as first and second-class mail’. Living with Laura stars Katie, overshadowed by her athletically-gifted older sister, while Pickle, Where Are You? follows the adventures of a lost kitten (I especially like the Jose Casanovas art on this one). Tansy of Jubilee Street is a soapy sort of story taking in a large cast of residents of a suburban street, and the comic finishes with the dramatic Odd Girl Out, about Samantha, a girl fighting against her grandmother’s expectation that she become a ballerina.
I’ve scanned the whole page of Jack Edward Oliver’s Blunder Girl!, simply because it’s an extremely good but little-known humour strip that deserves to be more widely known. By chance, Wonder Woman also appears in this issue, as one of the subjects to appear in a cut-out-and-keep booklet, ‘Penny’s Book of Wonder Women’ … which would also include Queen Elizabeth II, Margot Fonteyn, Joan of Arc, and Margaret Thatcher.
On this day, 19 October 1985 … To Cut a Long Story Short, the Roy of the Rovers plot went a bit bonkers in the 1985/86 football season. As we saw earlier in the year, the season ended in unbelievable tragedy when most of the Melchester team were killed in a bus crash, having made it Through the Barricades of a Middle-Eastern hostage crisis. But the credibility of readers had already been stretched at the start of the season when Roy had decided to create a Lifeline for his struggling team by signing Gold-en oldie, ex-players (now TV personalities) Bob Wilson (Scotland, Arsenal, Football Focus) and Emlyn Hughes (England, Liverpool, A Question of Sport); cricket legend Geoff Boycott (as Rovers’ new chairman); and, yes, it’s True, feather-cut, New Romantic popsters Martin Kemp and Steve Norman of Spandau Ballet.
Wilson and Hughes, aged 43 and 38 respectively, went straight into Rovers’ starting line-up, but Roy seems to have had doubts over the inclusion of the Spandau boys. Instead, he played them in a reserve game, attracting a sell-out crowd to Mel Park, which must have pleased Mr Boycott. To Roy’s chagrin, Kemp and Norman played worldies, scoring a goal each and creating an entirely self-afflicted selection headache for the Highly Strung player-manager.
At the time, this all seemed a little far-fetched. In fact, now it all seems a little far-fetched. But credit is due to Roy of the Rovers editor Barrie Tomlinson for coming up with a plot development which is remembered, and marvelled at, thirty-one years later. I found this lovely clip from BBC Four’s excellent Comics Britannia documentary in which comedian Frank Skinner remembers the Spandau Ballet episode and Barrie himself reflects on business of creating headline-grabbing storylines for Roy:
It’s all lovely to see, especially having recently read Barrie’s book about being Roy’s editor – in Roy of the Rovers and his original home in Tiger. Like Steve MacManus’ The Mighty One, Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff gives great insight into the professional environment in which one of IPC’s most prolific and successful editors worked, and the thinking behind many of the creative decisions that formed our comic heroes. Barrie’s book is a shorter, quicker read than Steve’s, and his voice is that of one of the old school (one of Roy of the Rovers’ definitive artists, the late Yvonne Hutton, is rather archaically described as a ‘lady artist’), but it is nevertheless a fascinating and revealing book. Central to Barrie’s strategy with Roy of the Rovers was a determination to establish the strip – and the character of Roy himself – as a cultural icon. Unarguably, this was achieved – in part through the sterling work of writer Tom Tully and artists Hutton, Joe Colquhoun, Paul Trevillion, David Sque, Mike White and Barrie Mitchell, but perhaps none more significantly than Barrie himself, who dreamed up many of the plots that grabbed national headlines, constructed the press releases (often including specially written comments by Roy himself) and even ghost-wrote letters from Roy to take issue with observations made in the papers by well-known football writers.
I disagree with Barrie on his belief (written in the book, and also expressed on the Comics Britannia clip) that Fleetway were wrong to cause Roy to end his career by losing a foot in a helicopter crash in 1993. Barrie feels that it was ill-advised to have ruled out any chance of Roy making a comeback and continuing his career. Personally, I think that the imposition of a definite conclusion to Roy’s playing career only enhanced the story that came before. We can appreciate it all the more for seeing it as a complete story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. That said, pretty much anything is possible in comics – as Barrie has demonstrated – and I’m sure Roy of the Rovers will continue in some form or another now that Rebellion own such valuable rights.
On this day, 18 October 1986 … With less than two weeks until Halloween, which, combined with Guy Fawkes’ Night, traditionally has been one of IPC comics’ most seasons, expect some gruesome artwork in the coming days. Oink! is first in, thanks to its fortnightly publishing schedule, with a tremendous painted cover by Ben Turner. Oink! appears to have been a welcome breath of stale air, shaking up the comics scene in 1986 with its full-on, foulsome, gross-out Viz for kids content. In putting together issue number 13, their horror/Halloween special, the the creators appear to have had as much fun as their audience would have had reading it. Lovely stuff! And what a stellar list of creators they were, including (alongside editors Mark Rodgers, Patrick Gallagher and Tony Husband), a number of today’s most recognisable newspaper cartoonists (Husband himself, David Haldane and Banx), the prolific and multi-talented Lew Stringer (Beano, The Dandy, Doctor Who Magazine and the wonderful Blimey! Blog), and Marc Riley – otherwise known as Lard of the former Radio 1 breakfast show hosts, Mark and Lard.
Thank you to Phil Boyce and his outstanding Oink! blog which chronicles the comic in great and loving detail, and from where I found the creators' names for this issue. Well worth a read: http://the-oink-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/13-lucky-for-some.html
On this day, 18 October 1969 … Frustratingly I have no copy of the first issue of Whizzer and Chips. Even though it sits just outside the blog’re remit of 1970s and 1980s comics, I would have loved to have shown scans of it today. This front cover is copied from the excellent Comic Vine website, which I recommend for searching for elusive lost covers of your favourite back issues.
On this day, 17 October 1970 … Thunder was one of a clutch of new comic titles published around the turn of the decade as IPC Magazines built a new range of publications to build on their successes of the 1960s. (IPC Magazines was a relatively new division of the International Publishing Corporation, bringing together the Odhams group – which had published the likes of Wham!, Smash!, Fantastic, Pow! and Terrific – and Fleetway Publications – which had published long-running titles such as Lion, Tiger, Valiant, Buster and June.) The new line-up included Sally (June 1969), Whizzer and Chips (October 1969), Scorcher (January 1970), Cor!! (June 1970) and Thunder, and a number of other new titles would be launched over the next five years before IPC really found its seventies groove. Thunder was one the less successful new comics. Like Jet the following year it ran for only 22 issues (curiously, the same number as both Starlord and Tornado), before being merged into a more established title – in Thunder’s case, Lion.
It comprises a line-up of stories based on quite fantastical ideas, most of which lack substance, credibility, backstory or depth of character, again rather like Jet, although Thunder seems to take itself much more seriously than Jet. Stories include: The Terrible Trail to Tolmec (young boy follows a mysterious map to track down his long-lost father), Cliff Hanger (buff adventurer and his hirsute Gurkha pal get into, and out of, weekly scrapes), Fury’s Family (a lad who can talk to animals leads a mass escape from the circus), Dusty Binns (cheeky, chirpy, son of a scrap dealer turns football star), The Jet-skaters (boys from a Saturday morning village cinema club are given a set of flying roller-skates) and Gauntlet of Fate (ne’er-do-well convict discovers a magical ancient glove that gives him super-strength). There were a couple of humour strips: The Spooks of St Luke’s drawn by Cyril Price, and the pugilistic Sam, a renamed reprint of a Leo Baxendale strip called Biff in Wham! comic.
Tolmec (as The Jigsaw Journey), Fury, Jet-skaters, the Spooks and Sam would all survive the merger into Lion in March 1971, as would four other stories which I think stand head and shoulders above the rest. Black Max offers Thunder’s most excellent artwork, Eric Bradbury’s superbly gothic rendition of the tale of a nasty WWI German pilot with a pet giant bat. Phil the Fluter is, on the face of it, a rather lame story about a boy who finds a flute which can freeze the world around him. This strip works for me because it looks very nice; it occupied the full-colour centre pages, and the technique of showing Phil in colour against the frozen world in black and white is both effective and rather spooky. Interestingly, while Mario Capaldi then Tom Kerr would draw the rest of this strip’s run, the first episode was drawn by Mike Western – and it looks strikingly similar to the first episode of Billy’s Boots that he drew for Scorcher earlier in the year.
Steel Commando makes his clunking debut in this issue. The tin trooper would become a lead character in Lion for a few years before teaming up with Captain Hurricane in Valiant. And – a day after we read his final episode in yesterday’s post on 1976’s Valiant – here is the very first instalment of the adventures of Adam Eterno. Adam was a 16th-century alchemist’s apprentice who stole his master’s elixir of eternal youth, and was cursed to travel back and forth through time, only ever to be killed by a fatal blow from a weapon made of gold. Adam Eterno was a memorable character – possibly thanks in large part to the artwork of Solano Lopez, who took over the strip a few months in, but one that offered great dramatic potential. He is one of the few of these 1970s characters that I would love to see reimagined and rebooted for a modern-day readership. Now that Rebellion hold the rights … who knows?
On this day, 16 October 1976 … What a day this was. It was my sister’s fourth birthday, pre-ban Action made its final appearance, Valiant bowed out after fourteen years and Cheeky appeared for the first time before a British audience, taking a cheeky wazz behind a bush. Oh, and we have the first issue of Krazy, madcap, innovative, irrepressible Krazy, and a kick in the busters for the humour comics industry.
I've talked about the new wave changing the landscape of adventure comics in the mid-1970s, and Krazy marked the beginning of a similar revolution in the funnies. The comic really did bring a different formula, abandoning the familiar structure of strip after strip after strip, usually in much the same order each week, in favour of a much looser, unpredictable arrangement of a fewer number of regular stories mixed in with cartoons, puzzles, stories and gimmicks. Krazy lasted only eighteen months before being merged into Whizzer and Chips, but it blazed brightly and initiated the Cheeky dynasty. The tombstone-toothed one was the undoubted star of Krazy, making an ostentatious debut as noted on page three as a member of The Krazy Gang, but with the additional honour of his own strip, ‘Ello It’s Cheeky, in this first issue. Cheeky was sufficiently popular to get his own comic in 1977, but remained a member of The Krazy Gang after it moved to Whizzer and Chips in 1978. In 1980, Cheeky the comic was taken over by Whoopee!, in which Cheeky the character continued to play a central role for several more years. He’s a brilliant creation, representative of something risky and rebellious that we’ve seen time and time again in IPC comics from this period and beyond. Cheeky is the krazy spirit of ’76.
On this day, 16 October 1976 ... It's an irony that while Action was facing the threat of cancellation for giving readers a little too much of what they wanted, in another office in the same building the last of IPC's traditional adventure comics was being cancelled for failing to satisfy the demands of the fast-changing market. Valiant had lasted fourteen years and 730 issues and had been home to some of the best-known names in 1960s boys' comics, including Sexton Blake, Billy Bunter, The Steel Claw, Captain Hurricane and Kelly's Eye. But it struggled in the face of a new wave of adventure comics that hit the British newsstands in the mid 1970s. Rival publishers DC Thomson launched war-themed Warlord in September 1974, then action comic Bullet in February 1976, while IPC itself had new kids on the block: Battle Picture Weekly in March 1975, Action in February 1976 and Roy of the Rovers in September 1976, not to mention secret plans to launch a new sci-fi comic in the spring of 1977.
Valiant had made a, er, valiant effort to reinvent itself in the grittier, more charater-led style that characterised most if these new titles. John Wagner was brought in as the comic’s editor and he did away with a number of the more fantastical, B-movie style adventure stories (such as Kid Pharaoh, Danny Doom and The Wild Wonders) and introduced a number of new strips that would have sat comfortably in either Battle Picture Weekly or Action. Death Wish, The Lout that Ruled the Rovers, Wee Red, and, ending in this issue, wild dog tale Paco and football bribe mystery Stryker were among Valiant’s class of ’76, as were three other stories that would make the cut when it was merged into Battle Picture Weekly the following week. Two war stories were easy fits: Soldier Sharp, about a cowardly corporal conning his way across the Western front, and The Black Crow, about a British secret agent showing French resistance groups how to stick it up the Germans. One-eyed Jack is probably the pick of the pack, written by Wagner himself and drawn stylishly by John Cooper. Like Judge Dredd, Jack McBane bears more than a passing character resemblance to Dirty Harry, and his hard-bitten adventures first as a cop on the streets of New York then as a private detective continued for several more months in Battle and many of them were reprinted in Eagle in the 1980s.
None of Valiant’s longer-running stories made it into the merger, so this issue really does mark the end of an era. Valiant had a long tradition of humour strips alongside its action adventures, and three of those – Billy Bunter, The Nutts and Challenge Charlie all offered their last laughs here. Captain Hurricane – a comedy-war hybrid (although comedy was stretching things a little in my opinion) – also ended. Most sad was the final episode of Adam Eterno, a story which had survived two previous mergers – from Thunder into Lion into Valiant – but for which there was no obvious place in Battle. It’s a shame because this was a story which offered much potential as Adam – long before Captain Jack Harkness had the idea (come to think of it, Doctor Who’s the Face of Boe looks much more like Eterno than Harkness) – was not only invulnerable but jumped around in space and time so every adventure offered something new. In another strange quirk of time, I’ll be looking at Adam Eterno’s first ever story on the blog tomorrow.
On this day, 16 October 1976 … This is a publication of particular significance in British comics history. It is the last published edition of Action distributed before IPC banned the comic (a full run of around 200,000 copies of the following week’s issue was produced, but recalled from distributors and pulped). I don’t think it was this edition, dated 16 October – the 36th issue of Action – that led directly to the ban. It’s more likely that the camel’s back was broken by the 18 September edition that I featured on the blog last month, with its law-mugging front cover and Angie Roberts throwing the bottle in Look Out for Lefty, but, with production lead times of up to seven weeks it would have taken a while for the machinations of cancellation to work through. That said, the fact that the 23 October issue was printed then withdrawn and pulped before it reached the shelves suggests that something particular in its pages (or a development behind the scenes) triggered an instant decision to kill the comic off once and for all (which didn’t quite happen, but that’s another story).
So this 16 October issue is a bit of an oddity – the last of the original Actions, yet not the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) example of what made the comic so disreputable. However, there is still plenty within its pages that demonstrates what must have made Action so distasteful to the conservative moral guardians of the day, and so delicious to the kids of 1976.
The cover’s an obvious starting point. That swastika – stark in black and white on a red background – is about as provocative a symbol as one could find on a children’s comic from this time, and I suspect it won’t have gone down at all well in the higher echelons of IPC magazines, whose management predominantly would have comprised WWII veterans. Ironically, the cover hero is Major Kurt Hellman, star of Hellman on the Russian Front, which sought to show a more humane, sympathetic and heroic side of an individual German soldier, but such subtleties aren’t apparent in this image dominated by the Nazi moon, the gun of a Panzer tank between Hellman’s legs and two dead Russians at his feet. Culturally, the swastika carried additional venom in 1976 as it was being widely adopted by the punk movement as a symbol carrying little meaning other than to stick two fingers to a suffocating establishment.
Pages two and three of the comic carried the editorial and readers’ letters, and these too are telling of the reader-publisher divide. ‘Steve’s’ editorial letter reads (and it’s worth repeating here that these were not the words of Battle sub-editor Steve MacManus, despite the use of his photo):
‘I bin sitting here brooding! ‘Cos last week my bird was looking for a pad to share. Well, she found one, in a real slick area on the other side of town to my joint! Now she don’t want to know me! Suddenly I ain’t good enough for her – the cow. Then Ol’ Wooden Leg [‘Steve’s’ nickname for Action editor Dave Hunt] comes marching in demanding this week’s letter. So I thought I’d cry on your shoulder, just for a mo’ … Ya see, I met this other fantastic bit o’ crumpet last night an’ she’s promised to take me out tonight. Ol’ Wooden Leg is seething with jealously! [sic] See ya, Steve.’
The readers’ letters include a Star Letter from David Carter of Bradford-on-Avon, relating the story of his dad blacking up to go to a fancy dress party as blind black Action character Jack Barron (from the boxing tale Blackjack). This probably didn’t cause much of a stir within IPC’s King’s Reach Tower at the time, but it wouldn’t be accepted today. Other letters combine as a chorus of praise for everything Action’s detractors hated about the comic, but which the readers loved – and one suspects the editorial team selected them for publication with a degree of satisfying defiance. Guy Barker of Brentwood reports that his English class had to write an essay about their favourite comic, and nearly all the boys and some of the girls chose Action. A Whyte of Haddington penned a sarcasm-dripping letter which included the line: ‘I would much rather read Desperate Dan or Korky the Cat in other comics than see people having their fists chopped off, their guts ripped out by drills, or their heads bitten off by sharks.’ And R Choudhury of Ashton-under-Lyme asked whether Death Game 1999 would feature in that year’s Action annual; ‘You’re in luck!’, replied Steve. ‘This year’s Action annual includes a real blood thirsty story!’
The stories in this week’s issue are violent and gory, but not as violent and gory as we had seen in Action in previous weeks. Dredger plots a bank heist following the discovery of the body of a dead agent in the back of a trash lorry. There’s more bottle-throwing in Look Out for Lefty, although this time the perpetrators are clear hooligans rather than Kenny’s girlfriend. Probationer Dave Brockman keeps his nose clean as troublemaker Clem Slater gets in trouble with the Fuzz at the dogs. Hook Jaw feasts on bullion thieves in the English Channel. Danny and Steve chase down their hijacked truck in Hell’s Highway. Joe Taggart is targetted for assassination in Death Game 1999, and the Major deals with a traitor in the ranks in Hellman on the Russian Front. Kids Rule OK is perhaps the darkest of the stories, with an image of Ray’s Malvern Road gang descending into the depths of the abandoned Baker Street tube station – where they will face off against a squad of psycho police officers – especially chilling.
It’s possible that the strips in this issue could have been worse. In his fantastic account of the Action story (Sevenpenny Nightmare – a website now out of action but being reproduced on John Freeman’s downthetubes.net), Moose Harris provides examples of some of the ‘taming’ of Action’s art and captions that was being enforced at this time before the comic went to press. Interestingly, there is a frame of this week’s Look Out for Lefty which includes a tell-tale speech bubble outline, suggesting that this particular panel was altered. I wonder what was meant to be said, and on which side of the copper’s leg bad boy Spicer’s left foot originally landed.
On this day, 15 October 1983 … ‘The happiest read of your life!’ School Fun can’t be low-marked for enthusiasm as it launched into a near-full school year of 33 issues in October 1983. Producing a comic that focused on desk, blackboard, school bus and mortar board jollity must have been a tough call for creator Graham Exton but this first issue is not so much baggy trousers and dark sarcasm in the classroom as playground pratfalls and staff room slapstick. Clever headlining stories from the off included two TV tie-in strips – Coronation Street School (featuring juvenile versions of Ken, Eddie, Mavis and Deirdrie) and Grange Hill Juniors (featuring the stars of the contemporary version of the show: Roland, Gripper, Jonah, Zammo, Fay and Annette, nicely drawn by Brian Delaney) – the full-colour exploits of E.T.T. Extra Terrestrial Teacher, Schoolditz (a 1980s version of Buster and Jet’s The Kids of Stalag 41), and three strips that would graduate to Buster after it and School Fun merged in May 1984 – Young Arfur, Walt Teaser and School Belle.
This first issue launched with a ‘slippy sticky snake’ free gift which I’m lucky enough to have, still sealed in its bag and sellotaped to the front cover. It’s a rather feeble looking item, to be honest, which looks as though it might disintegrate if I threw it at a mirror rather than ‘slither down the glass’ and frighten Teach into shaving off half his ‘tache, but still more fun than smashing up the woodwork tools or going to fight with next door’s school.
On this day, 14 October 1978 … What an absolute pleasure it’s been to re-read and select images from this, the merger issue of 2000AD and Starlord. Preparing these blog posts, re-reading the comics and selecting the images to scan, is always enjoyable but I think this has been one of my favourites. There’s very little that I can write that would add much to the work below by Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Massimo Belardinelli and Carlos Ezquerra – all high priests of IPC comic art. In combination with John Wagner and Pat Mills (plus – on the Mills-created Flesh – Geoffrey Miller), they have produced four stories of such enduring appeal that all four series are still appearing in twenty-first century 2000AD. In fact, characters and an organisation from each of the stories in this issue (Judge Dredd, Johnny Alpha, Howard Quartz and the Trans-Time Corporation) have played an important role in various editions of the modern-day prog over the last couple of weeks.
There are stories that say Starlord was a better seller than 2000AD during its short life across the summer of 1978, but the decision was made to fold it into 2000AD rather than the other way round because it was far more expensive to produce (more colour, larger format and a higher grade of paper). I’m sure that’s true about the costs, but I haven’t seen the circulation claim verified. It’s possible, I suppose – harder to imagine now, as 2000AD has reached the status of cultural icon, but it took a while to really establish itself in a much more crowded market in the late 1970s. Either way, it’s difficult to argue that the wrong decision was made in keeping 2000AD as the lead publication. It offered more scope for development than Starlord – its format, with shorter serials, made it more malleable, and I guess having a slightly younger target market meant it could go for more fantastical stories with broader horizons than those afforded to Starlord which had a more ‘serious’ sci-fi remit. 2000AD matured over time but from a younger starting point it was able to grow into the comic it is today.
That said, Starlord played an important part in The Galaxy's Greatest Comic’s development. Half of this merger issue comprised two seminal stories from Starlord which are among 2000AD’s most popular strips of the last forty years: Strontium Dog, the galaxy-spanning adventures of soulful mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, which combined action, imagination, humour and iconic Ezquerra artwork; and Ro-busters, the exploits of disaster rescue droids Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, which over time (as Ro-busters and later The A.B.C. Warriors) would develop into darker tales about war, chaos and revolution.
Also notable are the first instalment of the second series of Flesh, the visually visceral comic-strip fusion of cowboys, time travel and dinosaurs (who could resist?), drawn here by the inimitable Massimo Belardinelli, and – possibly the most significant story of the quartet – part one of the Judge Cal ‘The Day the Law Died’ arc of Judge Dredd, a saga which not only unfolded many previously unopened pages of Mega City lore but also prophesied the coming to power on American soil of an insane, bigoted, power-hungry, narcissist. The future is now, Earthlets.
On this day, 13 October 1979 … It’s nice to see a comic really glamming itself up to celebrate a milestone issue, and regular cover girls Tammy and June had every right to step out (or trip) in style as Tammy the comic had a strong past behind it and a healthy future ahead. It would continue for another five years and 239 issues.
Inside the comic are the latest episodes of long-running serials Bella, Molly Mills, Bessie Bunter and Wee Sue. I suppose it’s possible that one element of Tammy’s success as the longest-running girls’ comic at this time was that it had a core of ongoing stories such as these four, while Jinty and Misty, and the shorter-lived Penny and Lindy, mainly comprised limited-run serials. In my opinion the depth and quality of stories in Jinty and Misty is greater than those in Tammy (not that I represent the target audience of any of them), but there may seem less reason to stick with a comic that doesn’t have as many lasting characters. As with an ongoing soap opera, once one has engaged with a character, one can feel an interest in what they are getting up to for as long as they are still appearing in its stories.
The Tammy mix includes a good few shorter-run stories, however. This week has the latest instalments of My Terrible Twin – beautiful Juliana Buch artwork on the story of Moira and Lindy, twins mismatched in appearance and temperament – Sarita in Uniform – gipsy girl defies her parents’ wishes by attending the local comprehensive school – Temper, Temper, Tina – talented athlete who is as quick to anger as she is on the track – and Guitar Girl – troubled young girl discovers a talent for playing the guitar. Another Strange Story was a vehicle for one-off tales of mystery and the supernatural, this week featuring ‘The Three Wishes’ – a fairly archetypal story of a girl being granted three magical wishes, but discovering that none of them can bring her the happiness of true friendship.
On this day, 12 October 1974 … I recently read Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff, the football comics memoir of Barrie Tomlinson who was editor of Tiger at the time of its merger with Scorcher and Score. It’s an interesting book – very different in style from Steve MacManus’ The Mighty One – and I plan to write a short review in a future blog post, but I mention it now because today’s merger issue bears all the hallmarks of Barrie’s media-savvy approach to comics publishing. By his own admission, Barrie was always on the lookout for opportunities to place stories about Tiger or Roy of the Rovers in the national press (there’s a whole chapter of his book dedicated to press releases he sent out based on the latest soap-opera developments in Roy’s life), and to draw attention to his titles through link-ups with real-life celebrities. For anyone who knows Doctor Who’s production history, Barrie seems to have had something of a John Nathan-Turner style of commissioning – always on the lookout for content that might lead to a mention for his products in the popular press – and, as was the case for JNT, this was a quality both admired and disapproved of among those he worked with.
So Tiger merged with Scorcher and Score (losing the ‘Score’, just as Score ‘n’ Roar had lost its ‘Roar’ when joining Scorcher three years previously) and, as I mentioned last week, this was a hugely significant development for Tiger as it brought in three strips – Billy’s Boots, Nipper and Hot-shot Hamish – which would become integral parts of the comic’s identity over the coming years (Billy and Hamish remaining until the comic eventually merged into Eagle in 1985, and continuing in the pages of Roy of the Rovers thereafter). But these new properties are barely mentioned on the front cover. In fact, none of the comic’s comic strips are named by their titles. Instead the selling points are considered to be the features ‘written’ by footballing superstars Jack Charlton and Trevor Francis.
This may have been the correct call, I’m not sure. Tiger had a long life and kept much the same format under Barrie’s editorship for many years to come, but nevertheless I find it a bit of a shame. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s both Tiger and Roy of the Rovers alternated between several phases of covers featuring sports photography and comic strips, and as a reader of both titles I always preferred the comics approach. I wonder whether it was felt that the market for children interested in sport was slightly different from that for those interested in adventure, war and science-fiction; that sport comics were based on realism and contemporary activities rather than fantasy or history, and that the genre offered a universe of actual celebrities that it would be a mistake not to exploit. But the impressions I had as a reader was that Tiger and Scorcher would rather have been a football magazine, like Shoot!, than a comic; that it thought of itself as more ‘grown-up’ than the likes of Valiant, or, later, Battle or 2000AD; and (I should be clear that I don’t believe this was Barrie’s intention) that colour photos and ghostwritten articles were regarded as carrying greater value than the talents of such outstanding artists as Yvonne Hutton, David Sque, Julio Schiaffino, James Bleach and John Gillatt.
On this day, 12 October 1974 … Whoopee! had launched in March of this year, a decent comic but not particularly outstanding or especially different from stablemates Buster, Whizzer and Chips or Cor!! (which came to an end shortly after Whoopee!’s arrival). One wonders whether it was felt a shot in the arm was needed for Whoopee! to make it because its merger with Shiver and Shake seven months later marked something of a re-launch – a Whoopee! 2.0 – which gave the comic the particular character that will be far more recognisable to those who read and loved the comic throughout the rest of the decade and into the early 1980s: a wacky mix of slapstick humour and horror-based fun following the arrival of Shiver and Shake favourites such as Sweeny Toddler, Frankie Stein, Lolly Pop, Scream Inn and Creepy Car.
Because the editorial team took the re-boot, and the arrival of new readers from both merging comics, so seriously, they – and we now – were and are treated to a raft full of re-caps and character explanations that make this issue especially fun reading. Whoopee! stories such as Spy School (through the introduction of a new pupil), The Bumpkin Billionaires and Scared-stiff Sam, and Shiver and Shake’s Blunder Puss, Frankie Stein and Creepy Car all tell their origin stories, mostly through the use of flashback thought bubbles. Frankie’s three-page origin story is particularly good value so I’ve scanned it in full below, and I’ve also included a couple of frames from the original first episode of The Bumpkin Billionaires (drawn by Mike Lacey) for comparison against the re-drawn version by Tom Williams in this week’s issue.
Like Shiver and Shake, this new Whoopee! starts out with a division between the horror and the non-horror strips, with a comic-within-a-comic pull-out ‘Shiver Section’ featuring the spooky stories from the original Shiver, plus Evil Eye which was original to Whoopee! In fact, Evil Eye is part of a comic-within-a-comic-within-a-comic, as the ‘Shiver Section’ has at its centre the first part of a cut-out ‘Mini Monster Comic Book’ mixing strips, gags and puzzles. The non-horror strips from the Shake half of Shiver and Shake (Shake himself, Blunder Puss and Lolly Pop) are shuffled into the main part of Whoopee!, as is the first of Ken Reid’s classic World-wide Weirdies pages (replacing his Wanted posters from Whoopee! and Creepy Creations from Shiver and Shake).
It’s an embarrassment of riches and one feels slightly sorry for those having to make the decisions on what to include and what to leave out … and even more sorry for those readers who lost favourite strips from either comic. The welcome letter on page two suggests that reader surveys were used to decide the final cut, but there must have been a fairly equal split of votes for a number of strips that didn’t make this first merged issue, as not long after the comic offered readers the chance to choose one more character for inclusion. Over the course of eight weeks they ran an episode each of the following stories, at the end of which readers would vote for who they wanted to save: from Whoopee!, The Upper Crusts and the Lazy Loafers, Snap Happy, Little Miss Muffit and Pop Snorer; from Shiver and Shake, The Desert Fox, Grimly Feendish, Sweeny Toddler; and another story from whence I know not where, Tony’s Toolbox!
Irmantas tells the story of this harsh, gladiatorial contest in thrilling style here. Thank goodness the contest ended the way it did, or we could have lost one of British comics’ most brilliant characters. Rather like Denmark (1992 European Championship winners, having replaced war-torn Yugoslavia at the last minute), Goran Ivanisevic (in 2001, Wimbledon’s first and only wild-card champion), Jeremy Corbyn (who only made the 2015 Labour leadership ballot by a grizzled whisker) and Zayn Malik (whose mum had to drag him out of bed to attend the 2010 X Factor auditions), the romper-suited infant infernale would go on to become Whoopee!’s front-cover star and number one character.