I’ve been fascinated to read the machinations of comic book creating by Frank Hampson, Barrie Tomlinson, Pat Mills, Steve McManus, David Bishop, Lew Stringer and John Freeman. Outwith the creative bubble and in the context of this nostalgic tsunami and revision of history from fading memories I wonder what was it like for the humble but dear reader who poured over every wonderful panel. Eg – me! This is my story – it’s not for the faint hearted but may be familiar to you and a wee, and hopefully fun, history lesson of all your favourite comic books and characters (as I see it) for us both!
Learning to read in the 70’s I remember Janet and John, Dr Seuss Cat In Tbe Hat, The Magic Roundabout tie in Dougals Scottish Holidays, Noddy, Rupert Annuals, James and the Giant Peach, Dr Dolittle (I wrote a sequel in school – a classic, although I do say so myself!), The Famous Five, Black Beauty, Just William, Tom Sawyer, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Jungle Book, The Silver Sword, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens (particularly Oliver Twist and Great Expectations), the complete collection of Our Wonderful World US encyclopaedias (that bad features on something called American Comics and humour, strange spelling and appeared on the bookcase in Bosley’s Office In Charlie’s Angels – pretty cool and slightly exotic), Sherlock Holmes, The Three Musketeers, James Bond and, in my local library, the adventures of Billy Bunter from the Magnet which, along with a thumbed Dan Dare book may have been my earliest encounter with comic books – although I hadn’t really processed that in my head. Indeed reading the Magnet made me realise there was apparently life before I was born and a rather strange but wonderful concept of a huge number of back issues to pour over and enjoy in every medium.
I think by a young age I was fairly well read in many of the ‘children’s ‘classics’. I still hadn’t encountered comics as potential brain rotting, ongoing, cheap and accessible reading material worthy of the money I saved from taking glass bottles back to the local pub or newsagent. I did, like most Chopper-lite non bike owning kids of the 70’s, enjoy TV on the three channels we managed to get in glorious colour – although a second channel fro the BBC seemed a complete waste of time! My favourite programmes were apparently Catweazle (which I have added, but have no recollection in my own memory of it whatsoever) Follyfoot, Pipkins, Black Beauty (mainly the rousing music and galloping horse during the opening titles which meant I was staying up a half hour later on Sunday nights), Kung Fu, Starsky and Hutch (well, Huggy Bear really), Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, Doctor Who (Pertwee – you mean, there were two Doctors before him – wow!), the Goodies and my ultimate favourite, The Tomorrow People and later on Sapphire and Steel, Mork and Mindy, Dick Turpin, Buck Rodgers (bee Dee bee Dee bee Dee), Metal Mickey and Chips. Throw in the Banana Splits, the Flashing Blade, Champion the Wonder Horse, Swap Shop over Tiswas and you probably get a whistle stop summary of my early cultural influences!
With no video you had to watch TV programmes on transmission, along with the annual Wizard of Oz viewing at Christmas (although, to this day and my shame, I haven’t read the book!) and Ed Stewpot on Junior Choice. So what could you do in between times?
Like many of the titles today there was a TV tie in that could introduce you to the wonderful world of comic books. It may not have been in a garish colourful cellophane wrapper with a plastic toy attached to it but it was a TV tie in all the same. There were two listings Magazines you had to buy as an adult – TV Times for ITV and the turgid black and white BBC listings in the Radio Times. Then in 1971 someone came up with the bright idea of a Junior TV Times with TV chat, pop gossip and 2 page instalments of your favourite TV programmes in picture strip form throughout. That magazine was called Look-In and you could pause and play it any day of the week in the early 70’s to late 80’s. You even got extra Christmas Day specials of your telly faves (if transmitted on ITV) with your Look In Christmas Television Annual – a treat just as good as a tangerine in your stocking.
Dear diary I can pretty much track my TV viewing of the time and growing thought in my head with every wonderfully painted Arnaldo Putzu (and occasional Arthur Ranson) Cover on Look In.. My TV viewing and Look In fetish are a diary entry for another day but those two page picture strips began to cement the foundations of my interest in comics and I was hooked – even though I still didn’t really know it. More on that in Part 2 of Diary of a Comic Fan but I will leave you with a touch of my early Christmas Days, without being somewhere over the rainbow, with some Look In annual covers. Grab a tangerine and enjoy! Til next time…
TO BE CONTINUED