Thursday 20 June 2013

#ReaditMD13 Comics and Magazines Week - Nostalgia Fest! "There ain't no comic like an old skool Brit comic!"

Looking around for great child-friendly comics for Charlotte got me thinking about the comics I loved as a kid. I was always completely nuts about comics, and at school comics were almost a currency. If one of your friends bought Buster and Monster Fun, you could swap it with your copy of that week's issue of The Beezer or Whizzer and Chips.

Whizzer and Chips, featuring the awesome Sweeney Toddler
Most kids at school (even the girls) would swap comics this way, and each Christmas we'd do the same with our annuals (though I remember getting a bum deal one year when one kid swapped a copy of The Topper Book with me for a Six Million Dollar Man annual he'd drawn all over, the rotter). Back then, even in our wildest imaginings of what the future might hold we never foresaw a day when kids would be able to subscribe to their favourite comics and have them delivered through the letterbox (some comics did offer subs but I don't think I ever remember any kids at school being "posh" enough for subscriptions to anything). For that matter I doubt we could've ever imagined that kids would be able to read comics on portable devices with glorious colour screens, downloading each new issue and reading it.

I'm still a bit of a techno-luddite when it comes to comics on devices though. There's still something really cool about having a comic as a 'physical' rather than an intangible thing (though of course, once you get to a certain age you're a lot more merciless about consigning comics to the recycle bin to save on storage space).

This guy was like a lot of our teachers at school.
Also like a lot of parents now! Grr!
My comic of choice as a kid was Krazy Comic. It was funny, had a brace of brilliant regular characters like Cheeky and the Krazy Gang, and always slipped in little hidden jokes and daft stuff into page borders and margins, or had brilliant "trick" back covers (I seem to remember one being a fake antimacassar. Does anyone even have those on their furniture any more or am I just ancient?)

Krazy eventually folded and spawned Cheeky Weekly, but it never felt as zany. I still thought Cheeky's amazing stretch chopper bike was the best thing ever though.

I also loved The Topper, Beezer, Monster Fun and Sparky (again this is where swapping with friends came in handy, can you imagine having to shell out 5p for each of those? It'd cost you a fortune!)

Mostly I picked up comics on cover impact and art appeal, always more interested in the visuals than the stories.

Characters were always the right side of subversive, and that's still part of the massive appeal of comics for Charlotte. If kids in comics are slightly naughty, or perhaps don't always do what adults tell them, they're always going to be a big draw for kids who can live vicariously through them and not get into too much trouble. Roger the Dodger, Dennis the Menace (of course), Cheeky, the utterly brilliant Beryl the Peril and Minnie the Minx - they were all naughty kids who usually ended up on the wrong side of a slipper by the end of the issue (or on rare occasions, won out the day and tucked into a huge feast!)

The Numskulls. I swear biology lessons ruined this strip for me forever

It wasn't just about the naughty kids though, there were the downright WEIRD characters like The Numskulls, tiny little people living inside a man's head (and body). Really good to see that they are still kicking around today (thanks to Jamie Smart, a comics genius who is busily putting together brilliant strips for The Beano and The Phoenix amongst others).

Then of course there were the heroes. As I got older, I moved away from the funny stuff into more serious waters - first with 2000AD and then with a whole brace of gritty comics hitting shelves in the 80s and 90s like Deadline - which had some of the best art and writing of any brit comic there has ever been and featured one of the best female comic characters there has ever been - Tank Girl...

Deadline - a kick between the big toes in comic form
I used to read Crisis too. But now we're moving well away from kid-friendly comics into a whole other realm.

Oddly enough, I never bothered with American comics till quite late on. Some kids at school would bring Marvel and DC stuff to school but these always felt (just as they do today) unapproachable, always in the middle of some huge story arc that went on for so long that you couldn't ever hope to catch up or make sense of a particular character's current quest or storyline. When graphic novels and collections came along, I always preferred to hoover those up instead (and I still take this approach today).

Frank Miller's seminal "The Dark Knight Returns" - When Batman got 'interesting'

Going back to childhood though, those original funny knockabout comics will always hold happy memories. That really rubbish quality paper, and the fact that if you had a comic out in the rain it would literally disintegrate in your hands - and if you tried to store them for too long they'd always yellow in the light and fade...blissful stuff.

It's great to see the fine tradition of fantastic brit comics still carrying on, with a whole new generation of artists and writers contributing to brilliant stuff. The modern-day comic heroes like the awesome Zoom Rockman (of Zoom Comic fame), Gary Northfield, Sarah McIntyre, Neill Cameron, The Etherington Brothers, Laura Ellen Anderson, Andi Watson, Luke Pearson and a whole host of others are now fast becoming heroes to Charlotte because, once upon a time, they were comics kids too and saw how kick-ass and brilliant things happen when kids and comics get together. Long may it continue!