It’s drawing close to the end of the county cricket season. In my IPC comic-reading days all I knew about cricket was that it was played by footballers during June and July – Roy Race, Billy Dane, Nipper Lawrence and Tommy Barnes from Tommy’s Troubles all seemed as adept with a willow bat as they were with a pig’s bladder – and I don’t know much more than that now. I can’t even tell you who is currently top or close to the top of the county league. But I do try to check in on the daily scores of individual players whenever I remember because I’m part of a fantasy cricket league.
I was invited to join the league a few years ago and since then it’s become a regular and much anticipated part of my summer. It’s great fun every year, helped by the fact that this particular league is made up of a good number of lovely people, only one of whom I’ve ever actually met but who make me feel part of a nice little virtual community. I even managed to win it one year, but only because I spent the whole summer wearing a pair of magical batting pads that once belonged to Dead-Shot Keen. To make up for that, I dedicate this post to all the other members of that league.
After writing last week’s post about young me’s overwhelming excitement at the picking up of my weekly comic, I started to wonder what my fantasy comic would look like. With unlimited budget and the opportunity to put together one bumper single-volume comic comprising my most fondly-remembered strips from each of the IPC comics I read as a child, I reckon I could win the league once more with this lot:
The Thirteenth Floor (Eagle)
Written by Ian Holland and drawn by Ortiz
First-class horror strip based around a super-computer, Max, who was the secret controller of an ‘experimental’ block of flats called Maxwell Towers. To the flats’ tenants Max was a benign Siri-style voice behind a computer screen in each of their rooms, checking in on each of the residents and ensuring their needs were met. But woe betide any ne’er-do-wells who threatened the order of the block. Max would lure the bullies and vandals to his secret thirteenth floor (there was no elevator number between twelve and fourteen) where he conjured up computer projections to create the illusion of their greatest fears, often terrifying them to death. The Thirteenth Floor started in the short-lived Scream! before moving to Eagle and eventually – when the series ended after Maxwell Tower burned to the ground – Max took over the editorship of Eagle.
Ace Trucking Co (2000AD)
Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Massimo Belardinelli
Screwy trucking adventures in space, starring freight-lugger Ace Garp and his crew GBH and Feek the Freek. The series was supported by a pull-out-and-collect booklet listing choice phrases from its space-age CB radio lingo. Aside from Belardinelli’s stunning artwork it’s hard to explain what makes Ace Trucking Co so brilliant, but I think the key to it all is Ace is himself – such an eternally positive, upbeat and wacky character in the face of ridiculous odds that it's impossible not to love him and the whole series.
The Amazing Three (Jackpot)
Drawn by Trevor Metcalfe
A full-colour juvenile super-hero adventure serial featuring the unlikely trio of Blue Wizard, Tanya and Oakman. The latter two appear to be fairly clearly based on Wonder Woman and the Fantastic Four’s The Thing, and I'm less sure of the inspiration for Blue Wizard, who has the appearance some sort of music-hall magician. Simple fare, but this was a fun and imaginative strip and one of the few superhero comics I’ve ever read on any sort of regular basis. It had a magic about it (plus actual cliffhangers between instalments) which made it one of the first I looked out for in each issue of Jackpot during its run there.
Class Wars (Jackpot)
Drawn by Vic Neill
The scruffs v toffs gang-war set-up was a common trope in the IPC humour comics, and this one – a school form split by social class – was my favourite. I particularly liked how each class member had an almost-identical counterpart on the opposing side, creating a sort of meeting of parallel worlds vibe. Free-for-all punch-ups – engulfed, of course, in a storm cloud of flying fists and boots – would kick off at the slightest provocation, with neither gang generally ending up much better off than the other.
Crowe Street Comp (Eagle)
Written by Fred Baker and drawn by Rex Archer
I did enjoy the school-based comic stories. Crowe Street Comp was a Grange Hill-esque school soap with a core range of characters – with 80s hair and clothes, and nicknames from the 50s and 60s (Clobber gates, Fatso Parsons, Baby Bristow, Hot-lips Linda) – pursuing high jinks in the classroom, on school trips and on the streets after class. It was nothing like my school and yet it seemed to be saying that this was what school-life was supposed to be like, which was more of an attempt to be relevant than anything else I’d read in comics up to that points which made it interesting reading.
Durrells Palace (Roy of the Rovers)
Written by Fred Baker and drawn by Yvonne Hutton
A low-key but long-running Roy of the Rovers strip about a struggling Western League football club managed and run almost single-handedly against the odds by clean-cut hero Dan Wayne. Superb art by Yvonne Hutton and engaging storyline and characters created a lovely ‘grass roots’ feel and sense of involvement. I really cared about Palace – not only their fortunes on the pitch but whether or not their rickety stand would ever get a new lick of paint.
Hot-shot Hamish (Tiger)
Written by Fred Baker and drawn by Julio Schiaffino
Oh, I loved this strip so much. Very, very funny – not only the central characters of Hamish, his cantankerous daddie and his club manager Mr McWhacker, but also the background conversations that would generally be taking place among the secondary characters – Hamish's Princes Park teammates and whichever petrified opposition was facing his thunderous hot-shot each week. Schiaffino’s art on this strip is hilarious, as was his work on Mighty Mouse in Roy of the Rovers, and the pair successfully teamed up in Hamish and Mouse after Tiger had merged into Eagle.
Journey to the Stars (Speed)
Drawn by Ron Turner
Not dissimilar to TV's Lost in Space, this full-colour serial followed the adventures of an earth family who accidentally stumble aboard a deserted alien spacecraft and shoot off across the galaxy. The ship's eerie abandoned corridors and the mysterious alien planets explored by the Redfords – tracksuited dad, daughter Gina, son Andy, dog Digger and requisitioned robot Spidey – captured my imagination as a nine-year-old.
Judge Dredd (2000AD)
Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
The world's greatest comic strip. Les Miserables in the 22nd Century. Judge Dredd continues to excel today, one of its strengths being that it has continued in unbroken narrative from its first episode in 1977 (thanks in no small part to the talent and vision of lead writer Wagner who has been there from the start). It's brilliant now, but it was also brilliant when I started reading it in 1980. For my fantasy comic I'd choose an episode from 'The Judge Child', 'The Apocalypse War' or 'Judge Death'.
Laser Eraser (Jackpot)
Drawn by Robert Nixon
This strip followed the well-worn wish-fulfilment trope of 'young boy gaining an advantage over his peers thanks to unmeritoriously coming into possession of a supernatural (and typically phallic) device or power' – in this case an alien teleport device that could make people and objects disappear. I just can't imagine why this story appealed to pre-teen me! Fun stuff though, and Laser Eraser did have a little more depth than many other strips of its kind thanks to a sub-plot of the eraser's original alien owners monitoring the adventures of the boy (Ernie Oddsocks) from their orbiting spaceship.
Marathon Mutt (Jackpot)
Drawn by John Geering
This was a 39-part serial tracking the progress of canine cross-country champion Henry Bono in a marathon running race in which the contestants are all different breeds of dog. The weekly storyline was usually about Henry trying to regain his pole position in the race after one of his opponents tries to scupper his progress through foul play. This is one of the strips of which I have the fondest memories. Something about it captivated me – possibly the developing narrative of the race itself or perhaps the variety of all the doggy characters. I’ll be writing a blog post looking at this strip in more detail in the near future.
Meltdown Man (2000AD)
Written by Alan Hebden and drawn by Massimo Belardinelli
An off-the-wall sci-fi/fantasy serial that I found absolutely riveting, mainly I think because of Belardinelli's gorgeous visuals. His realisation of a parallel world populated by an underclass of animal-human mutant hybrids (‘eugenic bioforms’, or ‘yujees’) enslaved by evil human overlords, into which SAS commando Nick Stone is transported after being caught in the heart of a nuclear explosion, is beautiful, drippingly dark, and simultaneously believable and fantastical. This story ran for 50 episodes and I loved every one of them.
Nemesis the Warlock (2000AD)
Written by Pat Mills and drawn by Kevin O’Neill
Another stone-cold classic from the early days of 2000AD. Nemesis was an alien demon freedom-fighter liberating alien planets from the puritanical human empire of Lord Torquemada. The ornate and arcane artwork of Kevin O'Neill is what makes the earliest runs of Nemesis so magical for me but combined with the imagination of writer Pat Mills it still stands today as possibly my favourite comic strip ever.
Written by Tom Tully and as drawn by Francisco Solano Lopez
Nipper Lawrence was a hot-headed orphaned homeless kid who chose to continue living on the streets (with his dog, Stumpy) even after becoming a professional footballer with First Division Blackport Rovers. When I started reading this story in Tiger in 1980 Nipper was a Blackport player, but only a couple of months after I started reading it the artist Charles Roylance was taken ill and while he was away the paper decided to reprint the earliest episodes of the strip from 1970, in which Nipper was just a kid on the streets. It was these ‘origin’ tales that I fell in love with. The murky artwork of original artist Solano Lopez gave the story a particularly atmospheric and gritty industrial feel, and made it a nice counterpoint to IPC’s 'cleaner' football serials such as Roy of the Rovers.
Pete’s Pockets (Whizzer and Chips)
Drawn by Mike Lacey
A simple but brilliant idea for a comic strip makes this another classic. Pete – a surprisingly ugly lad, I notice as I look back now – had jacket pockets so deep that they contained anything and everything: street lamps, circus elephants, the Eiffel Tower, almost certainly the kitchen sink (I'll have to see if I can spot that one on re-reads), and pretty much whatever his weekly storyline required. Sometimes he would pull out exactly what he needed, other times he would litter the pavement with all manner of junk until the right item surfaced.
Roy of the Rovers (Roy of the Rovers)
As written by Tom Tully and drawn in my time by David Sque
I read Roy of the Rovers for a couple of years in the early 1980s. It was perfectly pitched for a young teenage reader just becoming hooked on football, following as it did the rhythm and fixtures of the regular football league season. Most of the time it played it straight, paying plenty of attention to the sort of detail that mattered to young fans: squad profiles, contemporary kit designs, league tables, controversial transfers (Roy's brief transfer to Walford Rovers was dramatic indeed). Then every now and then, presumably to prevent things getting stale, the writers would lob into the mix a storyline of headline-grabbing un-reality: Roy being shot, the Melchester squad decimated by terrorist attack and earthquake, and the signing of Martin Kemp and Steve Norman from Spandau Ballet (not to mention bringing Bob Wilson and Emlyn Hughes out of retirement). Happy days.
Starr’s Wars (Whizzer and Chips)
Drawn by Ian Knox
Sherriff ‘I’m gonna clean up space!’ Starr and his robot dog deputy Rin-Tin-Tim police the galaxy in a sherriff’s star-shaped flying saucer. This was a full-colour, centre-page strip with quite a slapstick tone, attempting to combine two of the most popular movie genres of the time – Star Wars and the spaghetti western. It seems to be an under-celebrated story – I couldn't find much about it online and it didn’t run for too long – but it stood out for me because it was one of the first new stories that I ever read in Whizzer and Chips (which was itself my first comic) and so seemed especially fresh and original to me.
Strontium Dog (2000AD)
Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra
Brilliant storytelling from the masters Wagner and Grant and iconic artwork from Ezquerra – together they combine first-class action, comedy and tragedy in the unfolding legend of mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha. Johnny's origins story 'Portrait of a Mutant' is generally acclaimed as one of the very best, and I do remember being engrossed and very moved by this long-running story – possibly the most serious comic strip I had ever read at the time, engaging as it did with extreme racial persecution and a final solution agenda. But for my fantasy comic I would choose an episode of the more comedic 'The Schicklgruber Grab', in which Johnny and his sidekick Wulf Sternhammer travelled back in time to claim the bounty on Hitler – ideas and characters that blew my ten-year-old mind.
Super Store! (Whizzer and Chips)
Drawn by Bob Hill
Super Store! was usually positioned as the second strip in Whizzer and Chips, appearing on page 3 opposite Sid's Whizz-kids editorial page. Similarly to Pete's Pockets, you could find pretty much anything you wanted and needed in the Store (which was run by a ringmaster-like character in top hat and tails, and his young companion), but what made this shop so special was its prices. Everything was priced at either 2p, 1p or ½p – the ultimate in retail fantasy and wish-fulfilment for this materialistic youngster. There is a part of me even today which refuses to give up on the hope that Super Store does actually exist out there somewhere.
What a comic! Using that time machine from last week’s blog I’ll slip this (admittedly oversized) publication inside the family papers on one of those awful printers’ strike weeks.