NOT On this day, 23 October 1976: Action
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.