Wednesday 23 March 2011


"Hurry up and take the photo - my bum's cold!"  Photo by me

Meet ZARA THUSTRASIA... or Zara for short.  I merely split the name into two and added an 'sia' to transform 'Zarathustra' into the feminine. German Shepherds are the best dogs in the world ever, and Zara was mine.  Isn't she a beauty?  (In a purely platonic way, you understand.  Hrrmmph.)  Nice doggie.  (Sadly deceased.)  Kennel Club registered of course - from a line of champions.

Thursday 17 March 2011


The first-ever Dennis book.  Art by Davey Law

Readers who bought The BEANO #452, dated March 17th 1951, could never have guessed what impact the new strip on page 5 of the 12 page comic (priced 2d) would eventually have, not only on the comic itself, but also the country at large. 

Today, DENNIS The MENACE is a British icon, and there can't be a kid (or adult) in the land who hasn't heard of the spiky-haired rascal.  Dreamed up by GEORGE MOONIE (who took the name from a song), IAN CHISHOLM, and DAVID LAW, the lovable scamp has been the comic's cover star since 1974.

However, his initial appearance (without the famous hooped jersey, which didn't show up until a few strips down the line) is rather standard fare, and displays only a faint hint of the madcap anarchy which established his reader popularity in subsequent escapades.

Dennis's very first appearance.  Art by Davey Law

So successful did the strip become that, if not for Dennis, LEO BAXENDALE might never have been inspired to contact the Dundee "fun factory" looking for work.  After a few false starts, things were not looking good for him until, copying Dennis's face, he created LITTLE PLUM (or BOOSTER, as he was provisionally called), the strip which secured his place in the world of D.C. THOMSON's children's comics.  (It wasn't too long before Plum developed his own distinct facial features.)

It's no exaggeration to say that, without Dennis, Thomson's may well have had no Leo to produce not only Little Plum, but also The BASH STREET KIDS and The THREE BEARS, who - along with DUDLEY D. WATKIN's LORD SNOOTY and KEN REID's ROGER The DODGER - were destined to become some of the comic's other most iconic characters.

Interestingly, in what can only be described as an amazing coincidence, another DENNIS The MENACE - by HANK KETCHAM - debuted in his own American newspaper strip on March 12th 1951.
The issue Dennis first appeared.  Artwork by Dudley D. Watkins

However, British comics are traditionally released up to seven days before the cover date to give them a full week's shelf life until the next issue, so that means our Dennis hit the shops well in advance of the 17th.  (Some sources say the 12th, the same day as the U.S. version.)

However, as current Dennis artist NIGEL PARKINSON points out, U.K. comics are usually printed up to a week before going on sale, so regardless of which character had the longer lead-in to publication (which is anybody's guess), the British Dennis definitely saw print first - by several days.  (Consider also that U.K. weekly comics are prepared about two months before publication.)

Although known in this country, the U.S. version does not enjoy the same level (or anywhere near it) of popularity as our own home-grown rascal, but is big in the States, and no doubt our Dennis is just a minor footnote over there.  The two are completely different types of strips however, and aren't really comparable.

Classic Dennis from the 1978 Dennis book.  Art by Davey Law

Today, Dennis is everywhere: books, stationery, stamps, toys, figurines, DVDs, TV, and, of course, comics.  Given the disappointing circulation figures that afflict traditional kids' comics nowadays, let's hope that Dennis will still be around in another 60 years.  All together now - HAPPY BIRTHDAY DENNIS!  (The one who isn't the gay gondolier from Venice, that is - because it's not his birthday.)

(FOOTNOTE: When the U.S. strips were reprinted in Britain many years ago, the title was renamed after the character's live-action '60s TV show, JUST DENNIS (The PICKLE), to avoid confusion with the Thomson's character.  In 1976 or '77, DENIS GIFFORD, the late British comics historian and collector, made mention of this fact in the pages of an issue of his ALLY SLOPER magazine, and received an irate letter from a young American reader who had mistakenly assumed that Denis was saying the strip's name-change had occurred in the USA - so it seems our Stateside cousins are just as enthusiastic about their version of Dennis as we are of ours.)

(All images on this post are copyright of D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd.)

Back cover of the first-ever Dennis book.  Art by Davey Law

Monday 14 March 2011


Images copyright D.C. THOMSON & Co., Ltd

Here is The BROONS strip that was "banned" and never saw print until its appearance in The SUNDAY POST, March 13th, 2011 - around 75 years after it was first created.

It's thought that it was vetoed because the word "lover" in the second panel was perhaps considered far too racy for a kids' strip in a family newspaper in 1936.  Morris Heggie, comics expert and current writer of The BROONS and Oor WULLIE, thinks that not only is it one of the earliest Broons strips in existence, but may even be the first one that artist DUDLEY D. WATKINS ever drew - the 'pilot' episode, in effect.

The Broons (The Browns) and Oor Wullie (Our Williamcelebrated their 75th anniversary in yesterday's Sunday Post, with a special pull-out souvenir section devoted to Scotland's loveable and long-running characters. 

Created by Robert Duncan Low (Managing Editor of D.C. THOMSON's children's publications) and Dudley Dexter Watkins, both strips first appeared in The Sunday Post FUN SECTION on March 8th 1936.  For many years Dudley was the only DCT artist allowed to sign his work, such was the esteem in which his employers held him.  The policy of other artists' enforced anonymity was only relaxed long after Dudley's death in 1969, one exception being Allan Morley, who started signing his work from 1947.

Original Broons & Oor Wullie artist, Dudley D. Watkins

For those that missed it, back issues of the newspaper are no doubt available from D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd.  Get on the trail of that collectors' item classic while you can.  The Broons and Oor Wullie books continue to appear on alternate years on the run-up to Christmas, and a special hardbook book reprinting classic episodes of both strips as drawn by Dudley D. Watkins is published every year, and has been since 1996.

Above, the first appearance of Oor Wullie and The Broons, and below, for completists, the covers of the very first Broons and Oor Wullie books.

Click on images to enlarge - then click again for optimum size.

Thursday 3 March 2011



As I said in the previous post (here), when SMASH! shuffled off this mortal coil (on 27th March 1971), its ghost haunted VALIANT for a while - but that wasn't the only way in which it managed to maintain a presence for another few years past its final issue.  Right up until 1975, a SMASH! Annual appeared every year in August/September for the following year.  (That is, the Annual which went on sale at the end of a year in the run-up to Christmas was for the year to come.)

SMASH! had ten Annuals in total - four in its ODHAMS incarnation, six in the IPC/FLEETWAY one, but there was an eleventh book in the form of the SMASH FUN BOOK 1971.  Feast your eyes on the covers for 1971 to 1976 in the pic-fest which follows.

Might as well throw in the 1969 & '70 Holiday Specials - just so I can show off my recent acquisition of the latter.  A replacement for the replacement of my original, as it were.  (Relax, it makes sense to me.)  Also included is the 1971 Valiant & Smash! Holiday Special, seeing as how Smash! is part of the title.

And now, for completists, here are the four original ODHAMS PRESS Annuals.  (Published by Hamlyn Books.)  The front and back cover for 1968 are included.

(Click on any image to enlarge, then click to enlarge again.)

Considering that the new SMASH! hit the stands in March of'69, it's odd that the 1970 Annual reflected the previous incarnation of the comic rather than the new one.  The Annual would've been prepared at roughly the same time as the comic was due to be relaunched, so that makes the discrepancy even more puzzling. Quite a few readers must have been confused as to why the Annual of their weekly comic bore very little resemblance to it when it went on sale in August or September of '69.

The 1971 Annual for its former companion title, WHAM! (the weekly having vanished from the shelves in 1968) must've seemed even more of an anomaly in contrast, the tone and format being in the old ODHAMS style as published by HAMLYN.  I can only conclude that the Annual usually sold well, hence its inclusion in the publishing schedule that year.

The name SMASH! survived for nearly ten years, from its first issue in 1966, to the final Annual for 1976 - surely a success in anyone's book.


The 1st issue of Smash!  (February 1966)

It lasted a total of 257 issues - and there would've been more if not for a printing strike lasting several weeks in 1970.  It outlived companion titles like WHAM! (187 issues), POW! (86), FANTASTIC (89) and TERRIFIC (43), essentially becoming a "best of" repository for all of them - but only for about 6 months or thereabouts.  Then it was out with the old and in with the new, and what would've been #163 became the first issue of the 'NEW' SMASH!, devoid of MARVEL reprints and more like traditional British boys comics like VALIANT and LION. (It's the 42nd anniversary of that relaunch on the 8th of this month, unless I'm very much mistaken.)
SMASH! was a superb comic, and the one in which I was first introduced to the FANTASTIC FOUR.  When ODHAMS PRESS initially presented the awesome origin of the FF, they did so in WHAM! and SMASH! simultaneously - curiously (and erroneously) claiming exclusivity for each title at the conclusion of the first episode of the four-part tale.  Would you like to read the next instalment of the quartet's dynamic debut adventure?  You could only do so in the next issue of WHAM! - according to WHAM!, that is.  If, however, you were reading SMASH!, it was claiming sole publishing rights for the next part of the story.  Was this an intentional two-pronged promotion of the FF to double their readership potential, or a sudden emergency measure necessitated by the non-arrival of a regular strip for SMASH!?  I guess only ALF, BART and COS know for certain - I sure don't.

Art by Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta

When I later discovered that REED, BEN, SUSAN and JOHNNY were regularly appearing in WHAM! ("The COMIC With The FANTASTIC FOUR!"), I started buying that title too in order to feed my romantic infatuation with The INVISIBLE GIRL, though I continued to purchase SMASH! as well.  Then POW! (after WHAM! was merged with it) and also FANTASTIC and TERRIFIC. It's somewhat ironic that SMASH!, having been the first 'POWER' periodical I read - and the one in which I first discovered Marvel's most famous family - was also the last title standing, as well as the comic in which the FF made their home for the last few months of their Odhams Press existence.
The 1st revamped issue (March 1969)

As mentioned, the title was relaunched - in March 1969 - in a completely different format, featuring some stories originally intended for a comic called BLACKJACK, which, for reasons unknown (to me anyway) , was sadly never published.  (CURSITOR DOOM, and - eventually - The PILLATER PERIL being but a couple of examples.)  It lasted for 95 issues before being merged with VALIANT on 27th March, 1971 (issue dated 3rd April).

The Codemaster cards & envelope

All things come to an end, alas - but SMASH! didn't quite die with the last issue of its regular weekly comic.  Click here for the rest of the story.

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