Tharg's world: the week in which 2000AD was launched
On this day, 26 February 1977 … Happy fortieth off-sale date anniversary to The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic! 2000AD’s birthday celebrations have been something of a movable feast, with all sorts of fantastic memories being prompted over the last fortnight or so thanks to the Thrill-fest, various publications and articles, and some wonderful reminiscing on social media. Due to this blog’s method of remembering issues on the anniversary of their cover date – a date only ever intended for retailers as an indication of when to remove the comic from the racks to make way for next week’s issue – I feel as if another review of Prog 1 would be turning up rather late to the party. The droid lube has been imbibed. The polystyrene cups are all chewed.
So I decided to do something a bit different for today’s post. What follows is a look back at what was occuring on this day – or, rather, in this week – that Prog 1 of 2000AD was published. It’s hard to imagine a civilisation untouched by Tharg’s galactic organ, unblessed by his cosmic blessing of thrill-power. I was 6 in February 1977, and this was my world …
It was a chilly week, mostly wet – especially in the Midlands – and there was even some snow in northern and central parts of the country. The Queen left for a tour in the warmer climate of New Zealand. Britain had a Labour government, and in this week the Foreign Secretary Tony Crosland died, failing to recover from a six-day coma following a brain haemorrhage. He was replaced by David Owen, the future leader of the SDP, who at 38 became the UK’s youngest post-War holder of this senior cabinet position.
Leo Sayer was at number one in the charts with When I Need You, ahead of Julie Covington’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and David Soul’s Don’t Give Up On Us at numbers two and three respectively. Paul Newman’s ice hockey movie Slap Shot, and giant octopus-based Jaws imitator Tentacles were both released in British cinemas. In the Five Nations rugby union tournament, Scotland beat Ireland 21-18 and England lost to eventual champions France, 4-3. The FA Cup fifth round took place at the end of this week, and the competition’s ultimate winners Manchester United drew 2-2 with holders Southampton in a re-match of the previous year’s final (and, coincidentally, a pre-match of today’s League Cup final). Liverpool beat Oldham Athletic 3-1 and would go on to win both the European Cup and the League that season but lose to United in the FA Cup final.
On the telly, Doctor Who was at its terrifying, gothic height, mid-way between the final episode of ‘The Robots of Death’ and the first episode of ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’. And the first episode (‘Mrs Slocombe Expects’) of the fifth season of Are You Being Served? aired. Those of us who were kids would have been presented with episodes of It’s Our Turn, Tony Hart’s Take Hart (only the second ever episode), Rentaghost, Crackerjack, Screen Test and Three’s Company. Jackanory that week was the story ‘Jack Shepherd the Runaway’, read by Penelope Lively.
IPC’s rivals DC Thomson had plenty of comic titles packing the newsagents’ shelves, so competition was tough for 2000AD and its stablemates. The Dundee publisher produced The Victor, The Wizard, Warlord and Bullet for the boys’ adventure market, and, for the girls, Bunty, Mandy, Debbie, Jackie and Twinkle. In the humour section they had the strong line-up of The Beano, The Dandy, The Topper, The Beezer and Sparky.
But IPC were in no mean shape. In fact, the line-up below was arguably the strongest it had at any point in the two decades surveyed by this blog (with the exception, of course, of that same list with the addition of 2000AD). It’s interesting to remember that 2000AD had been developed at IPC’s King’s Reach Tower headquarters almost single-handedly by Pat Mills. ‘I was entirely solo, apart from very brief periods of input from John Wagner and Doug Church,’ said Pat, in David Bishop’s Thrill-power Overload. ‘I was getting a lot of back-stabbing by editorial morons who wanted the comic to fail, because it showed up their inadequacies. I kind of enjoyed the animosity.’ This hostility towards the sci-fi newcomer wasn’t apparent to the readers. Tharg, Dan Dare and pals were welcomed into the fold with all the excitement of a new star signing. Apart from the girls’ titles, all of the comics below ran with this full-page ad for 2000AD:
Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant and Action were the closest to 2000AD in tone, and presumably represented the newtitle’s target audience. Battle was in fine fettle in February 1977. Behind its dynamic Jim Watson cover lay classic war tales Major Eazy v Rat Pack, Johnny Red, Joe Two Beans, Panzer G-Man, Operation Black Death, One-eyed Jack, Darkie’s Mob and The Bootneck Boy. Action, however, was in poorer health. Having been the comic of 1976, it had been banned from the shelves for a couple of months and had returned in diluted form. As the scans below show, there was still a fair bit of action in Action, but it all lacked the visceral edge that had captured readers’ imaginations the previous year, and it was folded into Battle before the end of 1977.
Jinty and Tammy were the only girls comics on IPC’s roster at this point in time. I’m afraid I don’t have the issue of Tammy dated 26 February 1977 so I’ve borrowed scans of the front and back cover (check out that gruesome Showaddywaddy poster!) from the Catawiki Dutch auction site. Jinty on this date offered the tantalising cover line of ‘Exciting news inside for all our readers!’ However, this was not the herald of a forthcoming merger but the announcement of a Zodiac wall chart free gift to follow in next week’s issue, and a new story to sit alongside serials such as Sceptre of the Toltecs and The Mystery of Martine. As a sign of what were in many ways darker times, how about that advertisement for issue two of the new Mirabelle magazine. The free gift was a sachet of Do It Together shampoo, illustrated by a towel-clad girl and boy apparently showering together. Mirabelle was a magazine aimed, I think at girls in their early teens, and Jinty’s readership was even younger. Forget the excesses of Action comic – who was objecting to this awful advertising placement in 1977?
Tiger and Roy of the Rovers represented the sports sector. The Roy of the Rovers strip was still appearing in both comics at the end of February 1977, having spun off from Tiger to launch his own comic the previous autumn. By this stage, his adventures in Tiger were secondary to the main Melchester Rovers storyline running in Roy of the Rovers, this week focusing on a plot narrated by Roy directly to readers about how he solved a dispute between two players. Over in his own title, Racey was forced to take over in goal from the injured Charlie Carter, as Rovers extended their unbeaten league run to 27 games.
The IPC funnies at this time were a strong quartet of Krazy, Buster, Whizzer and Chips and Whoopee! The pick of this week’s bunch is Krazy, which ran a horror special edition featuring vampires and ghouls on just about every page. Included in Buster’s line-up was the brilliant The Leopard from Lime Street. The adventures of 13-year-old Billy Farmer, who developed superhuman powers after being scratched by a radioactive leopard, had been running in Buster for nearly a year at this stage, and would continue for another eight years. Back here in 2017, it was a delight to see Rebellion announce in the pages of the latest issue of 2000AD that they would be publishing a collected edition of The Leopard from Lime Street later this year. Whizzer and Chips and Whoopee! were also both on great form at this time. Watch out in the scans below for a surprising cross-over between the two comics as Sweeny Toddler and Lazy Bones join forces. Tom Paterson was the artist on Sweeny and (I think) Colin Whittock on Lazy, but each represents each other’s character so well in their own strip that I wonder whether there was some sort of collaboration going on between them. If any one knows who drew what, please let me know!