Friday, March 23, 2007
Britain's forgotten superhero: The Purple Hood
Blackpool, Tuesday 29th July 1969. Ten years old, I'm on holiday with my Mum and Dad and, being mad keen on comics, I'm looking through a seafront news stand for something to read. Holiday resorts were always good places to find comics that might not have good distribution inland. A comic catches my eye that I've never seen before: Purple Hood No.2. It's a British comic, similar in format to those Alan Class reprints, but the cover declares it's an "All Original Comic". The cover character looks intriguing; a superhero with a machine gun? The logo design is craggy and compelling. The strapline says he's a "Crime Fighter International". Sounds different and exciting. I buy it. It's too blustery to read it on the prom, so I wait until we get back to the "digs". The comic contains three long stories. The Purple Hood has no super-powers but is athletic and handy with his fists, being more like a British Captain America than anything. He's a Government agent and fights terrorists and mad super villains. The raw style of the artwork makes the comic look more like a mock up designed as a prop for a tv show rather than a genuine comic. Yet this unreal quirkiness is a quality in its favour because it is so different from comics I'm used to seeing. When I get home I look out for Purple Hood No.3. It never appears, nor do any subsequent issues. I store away the treasured unique comic, to ensure I didn't imagine it.
Almost 40 years later I'm no wiser as to what the story was behind the publication of this comic. The art throughout its 52 pages was by Michael Jay. To my knowledge, I've never seen his work anywhere else. As can be seen from the scans here, his style was quite crude and derivative, yet it had a simplicity and energy that propelled the story along. (The stories themselves were basic, to say the least.)
Several years ago I saw a copy of Purple Hood No.1 at a comic mart and snapped it up. Again, the entire contents were by Michael Jay. I also discovered a copy of Strange Stories No.5 at a mart; another Jay effort from the same era. Mark Tyme ("The Fantastic Time Traveller") was another of his comics, and I found a copy of No.2 of that in a newsagents, reissued with a 10p sticker covering the original 1/- price.
According to the indicia, these comics were published by John Spencer & Co, of London. The inside back cover of Strange Stories promotes three other titles: Macabre, Fantasy, and Spectre "Published at regular intervals". I've never seen them.
From what little information I could find, these undated comics were published in 1967 (so Purple Hood 2 had been hanging around the newsagents for two years before I bought it). Mark Tyme and Purple Hood never reached their third issues and remain Britain's forgotten superheroes. (According to Denis Gifford's Complete Catalogue of British Comics the mystery theme companion comics ran to six issues.) Presumably launched to rival American imports, these peculiar British comics never quite hit their target but they remain an interesting curiosity all the same.
Who was Michael Jay? (Was it a pseudonym?) What's the story behind John Spencer's comics? (Did he launch others?) If you have any information, or can remember these comics, (particularly the others in the series such as Macabre which I've never seen) please add to this article by leaving a comment below if you wish to.
UPDATE 27/3/2007: Comics historian Steve Holland has kindly solved the mystery of the John Spencer comics by providing background info and more cover scans of the comics line on his blog here: http://bearalley.blogspot.com/2007/03/john-spencer-comics.html
Thanks Steve! (And yes, Michael Jay's artwork may have been terrible, but as a ten year old I was mesmerized by its clunkiness. ;-))