Saturday, December 19, 2009
Christmas comics: Smash! 1968
Today's journey back in time brings us to Christmas 1968, where the Sixties were still swinging and Smash! was still published by Odhams. Having absorbed what was left of the other "Power Comics", Smash! incorporating Fantastic was the sole survivor, and even the mighty fist of the Power Comics logo had disappeared from the cover as 1968 drew to a close.
Mike Lacey's Swots and Blots strip leads off the comic. In a few months time Leo Baxendale would totally revamp the strip (see an example in yesterday's blog) but for now Mike's pleasant and energetic style dominates.
Inside, the variety line up of humour, British adventure strips, and American reprint made the comic a lively package. Although references to the Season are mostly absent from the adventure strips, wrestling serial King of the Ring manages to force a mention into the script.
The Odhams' comics were always good at getting reader feedback on the stories, as this letter's section above shows. By imitating Marvel's method from the USA, editors Alf and Cos (Alf Wallace and Albert Cosser) adopted a pally down to Earth attitude with their readers.
You'll also notice a small ad for that perennial favourite game, Subbuteo, with 1968 prices starting from 10/11d (54 and a half pence).
One of the most popular Smash! strips was The Cloak and in this issue our hero has a showdown with returning enemy Deathshead. Creator Mike Higgs even manages to end the episode with a festive message featuring a cast of, well, dozens. See how many characters you can identify in the background of the final panel! (As some of you didn't realise, I should mention that if you click on the images you'll see them much larger.)
Marvel reprints were a cheaper way to fill pages than using 100 percent origination, but they always divided the readership. Personally I thought they were great, particularly quality material like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four even when cropped and re-edited to fit the larger UK page size.
Bad Penny had been originated by Leo Baxendale for the early issues of Smash! and although other hands tackled the strip at times this seasonal episode was by Leo.
An all-Mike Brown effort is this Wiz War page, featuring Wizard Prang and Demon Druid continuing their rivalry even through Christmas.
Ken Reid's comic genius continues in its pre-IPC unrestrained glory with this spectacular Nervs double pager. Hapless Fatty once again falls victim to Ken Reid's dark humour, - and the result is sheer brilliance. Scenes such as Fatty gleefully swallowing toys out of crackers would be one of the reasons IPC were so aghast at the strip, forbidding it to ever resurface in their new line of comics.
One strip that IPC did later revive was Terry Bave's Sammy Shrink. This innocent fun strip began life in Wham! then moved to Pow! and then Smash! due to mergers. Always popular, it was brought back for new stories (again by Bave) in IPC's Knockout, and moved to Whizzer and Chips for a very long run.
Another popular strip was Percy's Pets, which had run in Smash! since issue one. Several artists worked on the strip but most were drawn by Stan McMurtry (aka Mac) such as the example shown here.
Odhams had some offbeat adventure strips, and The Spectre was a short-lived series that ran in the back of the comic. Believed to be dead but secretly living under a cemetery and emerging to fight crime, The Spectre was clearly inspired by Will Eisner's The Spirit in conception, if not in art.
I'll be delving further into the past for another Christmas comic soon!