Nostalgia for troubled times. A return to a world where things were much simpler, the world of British comic publications and their heyday years. Subtitled “70 Years of mischief, mayhem and mud pies” I took this out of the library a while ago thinking I’d just dip in and out revisiting my personal favourites. Lockdown meant that I found myself reading every word retreating into the world where the prospect of a flimsy free gift was so exciting and the words “Big News For Readers” would mean an amalgamation of titles, slotting a less successful title into whatever had children flocking to the newsagents at the time.
Growing up I read a lot of comics. My elder sisters had pocket money whilst I had comics which my Dad would buy with the evening paper on the way home from work. A pretty hit and miss affair as he’d forget what titles he’d bought and what titles I actually liked. My favourites were the “funnies” and “Beano”, “Sparky” “Whizzer & Chips” “TV Comic” “Cor!” “Topper” and “Beezer” were the big hitters as far as I was concerned. The titles intended for boys with tales of war (so much war) and football I could take or leave but would buy them in rolled-up bundles from jumble sales. I would read my sister’s copies of “Bunty” with the cut out doll on the back and the memorable on-going story of “The Four Marys” and also “Mandy” which Kibble-White describes (and I don’t remember this) as being chock-full of miserable stories of deprived and abused girls but I was happiest in the land of jokes, slapstick and terrible puns.
Eventually pocket money arrived, the comics from Dad became occasional but I got my fix by selecting my very favourites and having them delivered with the morning newspaper. Around this time game-changer “Look-In” arrived, a trendy mixture of magazine and comic with TV and pop bias. I remember vividly the press-out cardboard TV studio contained in the first issues taking the publishers at their word that it would provide hours of play potential but it didn’t. The best toys were always the paper bangers called many enticing things by various publications from “Whizz Bangs” to the more dubious sounding “Big Crack Bang!” (Thanks “Topper”).
The last new title I can remember buying (although the jury is still out on this one) was “Shiver & Shake” a short-lived spooky-themed affair which came out when I was 11 and was a “double-comic” on the lines of the more successful “Whizzer & Chips” which I was surely still reading at the time and which I loved partly because of its audacious premise of pitching one part of the comic (Whizzer) against the other (Chips) even encouraging readers to bin one part of the comic without reading it (I wonder if anyone did that?). Such inter-comic rivalry was here manufactured but titles did gobble up the least successful, the most voracious of these being “Buster” ( a regular read for me but not every week) which consumed 12 titles during its close to 40 year run including my much loved “Cor!” (still remember the sachet of “Gulp” fruit drink free with the first edition); the ancient “Film Fun”; 1980’s title “Jackpot” and niche funny titles such as “School Fun” and “Monster Fun”.
They are all here in Graham Kibble-White’s entertaining book which examines the rise and sadly inevitable fall of almost 100 titles. In 2015 when this was first published only five remained. The long-running “Dandy” has since perished leaving “2000AD” (since 1977), “The Beano (1938), “Commando” (1961) and Judge Dredd Magazine (monthly since 1990) still going. There have been no girls’ titles for decades (amazingly as these were huge sellers at one time). The world moved on and comics were seem as remnants of Britain’s past but what pleasure these remnants gave to generations of readers.
The Ultimate Book Of British Comics was published by Allison & Busby in 2005.