Friday, August 10, 2007

70 Year Flashback: THE MIDGET COMIC




I picked up a curious item on eBay recently which only cost a couple of quid. It's a D.C. Thomson comic that pre-dates The Dandy!

The Midget Comic was a one-off 36 page free gift given away with the women's story paper Red Letter issue dated 21st August 1937 (according to The Complete Catalogue of British Comics by Denis Gifford). "Midget" is appropriate as it only measures 14cm by 10cm in size. Nevertheless, it's a busy little publication packed with strips and features.

The full colour covers look very much like the early work of Dudley Watkins, but are unsigned unfortunately as per usual DCT policy back then. Inside, the contents are mainly feature-based, with text stories, jokes, magic tricks, party games, and pranks to play on other children.

Despite being called a comic, the strip content is minimal, with only six full pages of comic strip (out of 36 pages) plus four tiny two panel gags elsewhere. Proof if need be that even back then "comic" didn't mean comic strips throughout. In fact it's more likely that "comic" was originally an abbreviation of "comical", which may be why "comic strips" are called "cartoon strips" in the UK. Therefore today's modern British comics such as Wallace & Gromit Comic and Dandy Xtreme with their mixture of cartoon strips and fun features have more in common with the original format of "comics" than we thought!

The contents of The Midget Comic include one character I recognized amongst the other one-off gag strips: Nosey Parker, drawn by Alan Morley, which would later appear in the Sunday Post Fun Section and in Sparky. I assume Nosey perhaps appeared in Red Letter which would explain his appearance in this free comic. (Can anyone confirm this?)

The cover of the comic features a clever bit of simple "magic". The tramps Nutty and Sam (who also appear in an interior strip) are looking at a window which has the blind down. "Do you see that, Nutty?" asks Sam. "Hold the picture up to the light and YOU'LL see too!" states the caption, - and once held up to the light an illustration from page two shows through - a policeman tucking into a big pie, watched over by the cook. (His wife? His lover?) A scene pre-dating Aunt Aggie providing Desperate Dan with cow pie, but drawn by the same artist, Dudley Watkins. Could this have been the inspiration for those many cow-pie moments?


All in all, it's a fascinating little piece of comics history and probably worth more than the £3.50 I paid for it. Although un-numbered, this wasn't the first D.C. Thomson Midget Comic though; there was a similar free gift given away with The Rover in 1933! You can see the covers of that little comic here, plus Dudley Watkins' first work for Thomsons. According the the aforementioned Denis Gifford book even prior to that there were four issues of a 32 page Midget Comic given free over four weeks with The Wizard in 1930!

Presumably all these free Midget Comics provoked a positive reaction from readers and may have been one factor which encouraged the publisher to launch a regular weekly comic, The Dandy, in December 1937. The rest, as they say, is history.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Lew, Hope you are keeping well. Re the Red Letter Midget Comic the covers are certainly the work of Dudley Watkins as you surmised. As to whether Nosey Parker appeared in Red Letter I'll see if I can come up with any evidence that he did, although I think it's just as likely that they were just using an old strip from the Rover. BTW Nosey never appeared in the Dandy. He had a long comic career in Rover and then in the Sunday Post Fun Section and even briefly turned up in Sparky but not in Dandy. Kind regards, Ray.

Lew Stringer said...

You're right Ray, Nosey wasn't in The Dandy. I don't know why I thought he was! I'll make amendments to my blog entry. Thanks.

Lew

pete said...

Hi Lew - just noticed that the Red Letter Midget comic just sold on eBay for £90 so the one you bought was a bargain.
Somemore midget comics were also given away with the Skipper too as well as Rover and Wizard.
Cheers
Pete

pete said...

I just managed to buy 3 midget comics given free with the Wizard in i believe the 1930's and one of them has a comic strip entitled the young Desperate Dan - I believe it must have been one of Dudley D Watkins early pieces of work - can anyone supply any further information about it ?

Adam Teitge said...

Hi all, I've come across what I think are issues number 3 and issues number 4 of "The Midget Comic" presented with the Wizard. They are almost certainly Dudley Watkins drawing inside and many similar type characters as to what would later appear in the Dandy and Beano. Does anyone know which issues of the Wizard they were given away in?
Many thanks, Adam (ateitge@hotmail.co.uk)

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