An A-Z of IPC: A
How can one best survey the rich and varied range of IPC/Fleetway comics and stories, even if limited to the 1970s and 1980s? Not comprehensively - at least, not if you're me - but an A-Z (inspired by marketing droid Molch-R's excellent video blogs for 2000AD) might prove to be an interesting way to present an overview of the sheer diversity of this fantastic publisher's output. I'm not aiming to cover every single story in these posts, but I hope they bring back some memories, and possibly introduce you to one or two characters or stories for the first time.
Controversially, I have decided to begin with 'A'.
A is for Action, considered by many to be the wild prophet that prepared the way for 2000AD. The first issue of Action was dated 14 February 1976 and it ran until 16 September 1976 after which it was temporarily cancelled by the higher management of IPC in response to pressure from Mary Whitehouse (and possibly also from major retailers), who claimed that its prediliction for graphic violence and anarchy – in stories such as Hook Jaw, Death Game 1999, Dredger and Look Out For Lefty) made it unsuitable for a young readership. An issue dated 23 September 1976 was produced but pulped before it hit the streets, bar a handful of issues – one of which sold for £2555 last year. Before the price rocketed I was the first bidder for the item on eBay for a few delirious hours, having entered my feeble bid with super-soft key-strokes in the hope that nobody else would notice the listing. Action was revived on 4 December 1976 and lived on in a vanilla, much less-loved form until 12 November 1977 after which it merged into Battle. Battle Action ran for three-and-a-half years until the Action part of its title was dropped. Action should not be confused with the Action part of Battle Action Force, which Battle became for a few years in the mid-1980s as a tie-in with the Action Force toy range.
A is for Archie, Robot Archie to be precise – a mechanical man with super-strength who, alongside human buddies Ted and Ken, fought evil monsters and aliens, usually in leafy African and South American jungles against which his sleek metal body appeared both incongruous and super-cool (for its time). Robot Archie appeared regularly for many years in Lion until the paper was merged into Valiant in 1974. Some of Archie’s strips were reprinted – in glorious colour – in Vulcan’s short run in 1975 and 1976.
A is for Adam Eterno, who also appeared in Lion, before that Thunder and after that Valiant. Adam’s story – he was a sixteenth-century, elderly David Carradine lookalike who for millennia surfed Earth’s history on the tides of time, cursed to never die unless struck a fatal blow by a weapon made of gold – was trippy yet not untypical of a classic stream of British comics from the late-1960s and early-1970s which blended action and adventure with history and mythology.
A is for angel. There must be an angel, right? Well actually there is a host of them in IPC comics, 12 of them listed here. Archie’s Angels were five kids, two of which had a stunt pilot dad who rather generously gave each of the gang a ‘genuine miniature aircraft, perfect in every detail … bought at an auction of weapons left over from the first world war’. The ‘Angels’ used their aviation skills to herd up a load of circus animals that had escaped from a crashed train. The strip ran first in the early years of Whizzer and Chips and was reprinted in Cheeky in the summer of 1978, as the serial movie that Cheeky and his pals watched at the cinema.
Angel was the name of a girl in Jackpot who was the subject of unrequited romantic infatuation in the hearts of three boys – Angel’s ‘Proper’ Charlies. Angel was completely aware of the lads’ passions and each week would manipulate the unwitting trio into performing some deed for her benefit.
The Angel Gang were a family gang of Cursed Earth villains who became recurring characters in 2000AD’s Judge Dredd strip. Their first appearance in Prog 160 (April 1980) in the ‘Judge Child’ storyline, introduced four of the family – Pa Angel and brothers Link Angel, Junior Angel and Mean Machine Angel – and they were later supplemented by a fourth son, Fink Angel. Mean and Fink outlived the rest of the clan with recurring appearances in future issues of 2000AD, and both producing offspring: Mean Junior and Ratfink respectively.
Angela Angel-face, in Sandie, told the tales of boarding schoolgirls Mary Coates and Angela Palmer. Angela ‘has the sweetest, most angelic face, but she only turns on the charm to get her own way,’ much to the chagrin of Mary. I’m sure we all know somebody like Angela!
The girls’ exploits were initially concerned with Angela getting her sweet-faced way at school, and during the mid-term holiday when she stayed with Mary and her family. However, shit got real in a later storyline (seen below from its reprint in Jinty) when the girls became caught up in a diplomatic kidnapping adventure while on a trip to faraway Meringaria with the school quiz team.
A is for Ad Lad, from Whoopee!, whose wacky characteristic was a determination to sneak an appearance in as many advertisements as possible. A bit like Ant and Dec and Myleene Klass.
A is for Art’s Gallery, from Monster Fun, about a boy, Art, whose art gallery contained haunted paintings that came to life, causing trouble for poor art or whichever posh guests were visiting that week.
A is for The Apprentices, a football story that ran in Roy of the Rovers in 1983 and 1984 within the world of Roy Race’s own team Melchester Rovers. For most of the strip’s run, Roy himself was absent from Melchester – on his ill-conceived and short-lived transfer to Walford Rovers – so The Apprentices kept us in touch with the club through the adventures of some members of its youth team. One of the gang, Rob Richards, was believed both within the story and possibly by many readers to be ‘the new Roy Race’, the way being prepared for him to replace Roy in the main strip when he graduated to the first team. Rob did make it into the first team but was never as good as Roy.
A is for ants, and there have been a few. Andy’s Ants in the pages of Cor!! was the first regiment of handy hymenoptera – an army of the little fellas who could speak, understand Andy and do his bidding … until they decided not to, as they were also defiant, arrogant and indignant.
A decade or so later the ants were revived in Wow! for a similar strip with a New Wave vibe. Adam and his Ants was much the same story as Andy’s Ants – they could well have been the same ants – the only difference being Adam sported quiffier hair and a dandy waistcoat.
And of course there were the Ant Wars. Not, sadly, a mass mandible-off between Andy’s ants and Adam’s ants but a visually-spectacular 2000AD strip from 1978 (the year following the movies Empire of the Ants and Kingdom of the Spiders) about an assault on humanity by a swarm of giant ants emerging from the jungles of South America (where’s Robot Archie when you need him?).
A is for The Angry Planet, a story that ran for the entire 22-issue run of Tornado. Set on the harsh landscape a Mars oxygen-mining colony of the near future, it told of the rebellion of the first generation of settler Martians against the corporate power of Earth.
A is for The A.B.C. Warriors, a metal-cold classic that first appeared in 2000AD in Prog 119 (30 June 1979) and still runs today (as I write I’m awaiting delivery of my latest prog in which the Meknificent Seven’s adventures continue). The line-up of the robotic freedom-, chaos-, and eco-warriors (the A.B.C. stands for Atomic, Bacterial, Chemical) has changed quite a bit over the years, although Hammerstein, Deadlock, Joe Pineapples and Mongrol have been mainstays throughout, and the story has narrative links to several other 2000AD stories including Ro-busters, Invasion!, Savage, Nemesis the Warlock, Judge Dredd and Flesh.
A is for Ace Trucking Co., a deep-space alien trucking tale about the adventures of Ace Garp and the crew (G-B-H and Feek the Freek) of his Space Ghost lug that appeared in 2000AD for many stories between 1981 and 1986. Notable for its use of a substantial lexicon of CB-style space-trucking slang – a cut-out-and-keep booklet was serialised in the comic – and Ace’s sentient scarf, this series was all the more memorable for the sumptuous Massimo Belardinelli artwork that realised the majority of its stories.
A is for Anderson, PSI Division, another 2000AD classic. Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson originally appeared in the Judge Dredd story ‘Judge Death’ in 1980, not only as a judge whose psychic abilities complemented Dredd’s physical attributes in the battle against the demonic Death, but as a more empathic counterpoint to Dredd’s detached demeanour. Anderson soon gained her own series in 2000AD and is still going strong today.
A is for Art of Death, one of the many delicious one-off stories that made Misty such an outstanding weekly horror anthology. The opening caption sets the tone: ‘The village of Queen’s Lynn is picturesque and tranquil. It should be the perfect place to live – but it isn’t. the children are dying. One by one, every few days … swiftly and mysteriously. Throughout the village fathers grieve… mothers mourn…’. The deaths have coincided with the arrival in the village of a new art teacher at the local school, and soon the spirits of the young return to avenge their deaths.
A is for Almost Human, a five-month serial from the pages of Jinty in 1979. Xenia is a young alien princess whose parents abandon her in the English countryside for her own safety before returning to rule their own dying planet. Forced to fend for herself on a strange new world, Xenia has the advantage of looking, and even dressing, much like a human schoolgirl. But when she touches another living creature, well, see for yourself:
Finally, A is for Alice in a Strange Land, another Jinty serial from 1979. In a sense it is an inversion of the Almost Human story – this time it’s a relatable twentieth-century girl who is lost in an unfamiliar world, as timid Alice Jones is one of seven girls who are survivors of a plane crash in a South American jungle (‘Archie!’). They discover the lost Golden City of the Incas whose inhabitants wish to worship the girls as goddesses, but Alice is less willing than the others to join in.