On this day, 30 March 1985: Tiger
On this day, 30 March 1985 ... I think it’s probably fair to say that IPC’s comics heyday was over by March 1985. The previous twelve months had seen both Tammy and Scream! disappear from the newsstands (neither returned following a printers’ strike, except as newly-merged additions to Girl and Eagle respectively), and School Fun merged into Buster. Then, with the issues cover-dated 30 March, both Tiger and Whoopee! lost their status as titles in their own rights. A process of rationalisation appears to have taken place, leaving only Girl, Eagle, Roy of the Rovers, Battle, 2000AD, Buster and Whizzer and Chips on the roster.
I’ll look at the last issue of Whoopee! in a separate post. Tiger – first published in 1954, making it one of the longest-running comics in British history (for some context, 2000AD only overtook it in this respect in 2008) really did seem to go out with a whimper rather than a roar. Its masthead (presumably those are supposed to be tiger stripes) is the first thing to catch the eye – it’s unusual because Tiger had such a classic and instantly-recognisable title for so long, and also because they changed it to this new one only seven issues previously. I wonder whether it was done so with the merger into Eagle in mind, and it was considered that this more contemporary looking design would better complement the Eagle title.
In my opinion Tiger had lost its way in previous months and years by diluting its identity as a sports publication. In this last issue we find three stories that wouldn’t have made it into the comic when I started reading it in late 1980. Star Rider is a BMX tale with nice Casanovas artwork, but ruined by the fact that the main character is actually a shape-changing alien. Not a bad idea in itself, and better suited to the pages of Eagle where it continued for a while after the merger, but a bit pants for a sports comic. Next comes Sintek – once a motorbike star given bionic abilities following an accident, the story now reads more like Eagle’s Manix or 2000AD’s M.A.C.H.1 and there’s no sports element at all in this final episode. Finally, Death Wish – a once-terrific action story based in the real world, now an embarrassing fantasy; the introductory caption to this week’s episode reads: ‘Blake Edwards had been captured by evil spirits who lived in a ruined building deep in the African jungle. The leader of the spirits had a mad scientist create clones of Blake … and then a Colossus … a copy of Blake that was as high as a six storey building! Some good ghosts fetched Blake’s friend, Suzie Walsh, but as she neared the place where Blake was bing held …’ What the …?!?! I’d say the strip itself had a death wish by this stage.
I feel a rant on. In an attempt to reign it in a little I should say a few nice words about Billy’s Boots – this issue’s one saving grace. Billy is on top form here and angry as hell as his council care side is defeated once again by a really nasty team of bullies, while his poor gran is stuck in hospital after a traffic accident. John Gillatt had been the Billy’s Boots artist for some time by now but his work is as strong as ever and this whole episode is infused with dynamism, character and passion. The final frame in Tiger’s history sees Billy with a face of thunder proclaiming ‘I’m not staying here!’ I sense that some rather more corporate bullies may have been on the minds of Gillatt and writer Fred Baker as they scripted Billy’s transfer to Eagle (he would eventually move over to a far more comfortable home in Roy of the Rovers).
I accept that Tiger wasn’t always a sports comic. In days of yore it was more of an adventure comic, with non-sporty yarns Saber, King of the Jungle, The Black Archer and Battler Britton. I’ve written before about that curious genre of fantasy adventure that was so successful in the likes of Lion and Valiant during the 1960s and early 1970s, and perhaps Tiger was seeking to recapture a bit of that in its final days. But during the 1970s it had successfully modelled itself as the sports comic and I’d say that was a brand that it was a huge mistake to betray.