Monday, September 21, 2009
45 Year Flashback: WHAM! No.15
On this day in 1964 thousands of kids received a free "WHAM-pire Bat" in their copy of Wham! comic No.15. The weekly had only been launched by Odhams a few months earlier, and free gifts were a rarity in those days, so did this boom issue signal that Wham! had perhaps not performed as well as expected?
Whatever the case, Wham! would of course survive for another few years, until early 1968 when it merged into Pow!. By that time it wasn't as vibrant as it was at its launch, but this particular issue we're looking at represented Wham! in its prime.
When Leo Baxendale left D.C. Thomson to create a new comic for Odhams he had envisioned a 16 page "Super-Beano" featuring artists such as himself, Ken Reid, Davy Law, and Paddy Brennan. What actually emerged was a 24 page comic with only Baxendale and Reid leaving Thomsons to work on it, along with numerous new artists such as Gordon Hogg and Graham Allen. Nevertheless, the result was spectacular!
This issue of Wham! shows the comic in its typical robust style. The cover strip Biff (often by Baxendale but this time by Graham Allen) is a harder-edged precursor to Shiner who would appear in Whizzer and Chips five years on. The premise of Biff is simply a boy who always gets into fights, and back then a "fight" meant a punch on the hooter rather than the knife-wielding, ear biting thuggery in today's schools. Even so, it's hard to imagine today's comics relishing in such amoral comedy violence. That's what made Wham! so effective; it was irresponsible and it didn't care, - and funny with it.
Inside, Leo Baxendale's Eagle Eye, Junior Spy was a riot of busy slapstick adventure. Fourteen panels crammed into one page, but then look at page two, - a huge full page panel to show the impact of the explosion triggered by baddie (today we'd call him a terrorist) Grimly Feendish, - a mushroom cloud of "ten million tons of smelly, slimy swamp and assorted things". Baxendale's doing something revolutionary here. Full page panels were common for stand alone sets such as The Banana Bunch in Beezer, or occasionally in annuals, but unheard of as part of a humour story in a weekly.
Over the page, a more suburban strip: The Wacks. Gordon Hogg drawing this fun attempt to cash in on the moptop craze of the year. Opposite, the regular Wham! pop page which The Wacks always hosted, this week featuring The Honeycombs.
Kelpie the Boy Wizard came next, adding variety to the comic with a fantasy serial nicely illustrated by John Burns, (who is still working today, often drawing Nikolai Dante for 2000AD).
Next up was The Tiddlers, back in the days before they became a Bash Street clone when they had a teacher who was as irreverent as them. Here we see the Headmaster of Canal Road School preparing to face the anarchic kids by having an Aspirin sandwich...
An Aspirin sandwich?!? Yes, another example of how reckless the comic was, but I never heard of anyone stupid enough to imitate it, or complaining about it. It was just funny.
A few pages on, the centrespread, featuring at this point in time General Nitt and his Barmy Army. Another strip originated by Baxendale but here ghosted by Graham Allen. Leo was producing a huge amount of pages for Wham! but obviously couldn't draw the whole comic, so "ghosts" were brought in to help out. Graham Allen would prove to be the best of these, soon developing his own distinctive style and becoming one of the UK's top humour artists on later strips such as Tuffy McGrew for Pow! and King Kat for the Daily Star.
Danny Dare - He's Dan Dare's Number One Fan featured on pages 14 and 15 of this issue. A fairly dull strip but notable because the Dan Dare sequences of Danny's imagination were initially drawn by Dan Dare artists of the day. In this case it looks like the work of Don Harley. Not sure who drew the humour sequences, (Artie Jackson perhaps?) but definitely not Baxendale.
Brian Lewis, a fantastic artist who died far too young, ghosted Baxendale on The Pest of the West on page 17, displaying a drawing skill far beyond that of most ghost artists. Fortunately Brian was allowed to develop his own humour style, and of course he was also a highly accomplished adventure artist.
The jewel in the crown was in these early issues found near the back of the comic: Frankie Stein drawn by Ken Reid, surely the greatest humour artist of British comics? At this time Frankie Stein was a serial, and the title character only appears briefly in this episode, but look how Ken builds up the comedy with the two kids Cyril and 'Arry. Both characters are created just for this episode, but Ken manages to give them personality, building up Cyril's confidence until it's shattered in the final panel by the emergence of Frankie.
Notice also how wordy the Frankie Stein pages are compared to comics of today. Yet such verbosity helped to develop the comedy, and the dialogue itself is so natural.
At the back of the comic: Georgie's Germs, drawn by Leo Baxendale, although usually by ghost artists. (A simple way to determine if Leo drew the strips in Wham! is that he usually signed his pages.) This inventive strip was like a grimier version of The Numskulls, although recent years have now seen that strip use "gross" humour.
On the back page was Footsie the Clown; a rather tame strip compared to much of the interior material. Another Baxendale ghost artist at work here, but I'm not sure who. Footsie would later move to the inside, replaced by the caveboy Glugg, a more bouncy strip.
All in all, Wham! was a great comic in this, its first year. Its intention was to compete directly with The Beano; although with Wham! being twice the price that probably put paid to that. Even so, Wham! was definitely more modern and energetic than its rivals of the time, and felt exciting and fresh to read, - and very 1960s.