Tuesday, February 01, 2011

45 year flashback: SMASH! No.1

After 85 issues of Wham! Odhams launched a companion comic on 1st February 1966 with the publication of Smash! Considering that Wham! had lost three of its colour pages in the previous year and raised its price by 1d I don't think it had been selling tremendously well but perhaps Odhams felt they needed to expand the line to increase their share of the market.

The new weekly had been promoted a week earlier in the pages of Wham!...

...and was also advertised in the issue of Wham! that came out on January 31st 1966. Note how they could proudly boast of a FREE GUN being given away. These days similar gifts are referred to as "blasters" or somesuch. (I've never seen the gift given in Smash! No.1 but I assume it was similar to the "Thunder-Bangs" that D.C. Thomson often presented in their comics.)

The front cover of the first issue of Smash! featured a busy street scene by Leo Baxendale showing groups of un-named kids playing with the free gift. Similar covers would appear on issues 2 and 3. Inside, the first strip was two pages of Ronnie Rich, the boy who stood to inherit a million pounds if he could get rid of the money he already had. Superb comedy drawn by Gordon Hogg.

Pages 4 and 5 featured The Ghost Patrol. This was a retitled reprint of The Phantom Patrol that had originally appeared in Swift just a few years earlier. The artwork was by Gerry Embleton, but the strip didn't survive for too long in Smash, which tended to avoid traditional stories of war and sport.

Pages 6 and 7 featured the first appearance of Bad Penny with artwork by Leo Baxendale. Penny was essentially Odhams' version of Minnie the Minx, even down to the black beret, but somehow I always preferred Bad Penny. Perhaps it was the Odhams house style of dafter and more unrestrained humour that appealed to me.

Page 8 featured Percy's Pets, one of Smash's most popular humour strips. Artwork by Stan Macmurtry (Mac), who is still active today, age 75, as the Daily Mail's cartoonist. Page 9 featured an ad for the following issue of Smash! produced as a comic strip, - an excellent way to grab the reader's interest.

Pages 10 and 11 featured Brain's Brain. Personally I never liked this strip and would often skip it but it was popular enough with readers to be brought back for a second series a year or so after its original run ended. Artwork by Bert Vandeput. (Barry Mitchell drew the second series.)

The centre pages gave us a real treat. Space Jinx in colour. The artwork was by Brian Lewis, a remarkable adventure artist who, as can be seen, was equally as accomplished as a humour artist. Not many comic artists can pull off both styles with conviction, which is an indication of Lewis' remarkable talents.

Pages 14 and 15 gave us The Nervs. Long before Ken Reid took over the strip (in Smash's final Odhams issues) Graham Allen was the original artist. Note that the human is an adult male in the early strips, not a schoolboy as he later became. Note also the difference in tone between The Nervs and the strip that inspired it, The Beezer's Numskulls. In The Numskulls the human is referred to kindly as "our man". In The Nervs he's harshly called "that fat pig".

Pages 16 and 17 were a feast for the eyes with two pages of Ken Reid goodness. Queen of the Seas gave Reid the chance to illustrate the sort of sea-faring slapstick that he'd become renowned for on Jonah for The Beano in the 1950s. For his Odhams work, Reid would take the comedy further and funnier than he had before, and I feel that the 1960s were his peak period.

Page 18 featured The Tellybugs. In a way this strip was quite at odds with the rest of the comic as it seemed a little old fashioned with its artwork by veteran George Parlett but I found it fascinating when I was seven. So much so that I cut out the little Tellybug at the far left of the title header, glued him to card, and stood him beside our telly.

Mister Knowall appeared on page 19; a weekly activity page of tricks, illusions and wordplay that always seemed to feature something of interest.

Pages 20 and 21 gave us The Swots and the Blots, which would be Smash's most popular and longest running strip. Despite what some claim, the artwork was not by Leo Baxendale until the IPC series. (Apart from one Odhams issue towards the end of that run.)

Pages 22 and 23 featured Charlie's Choice, the kid with the magic tv set. Again, Brian Lewis shows what a superb cartoonist he was.

Finally, the back page presented us with Grimly Feendish, The Rottenest Crook in the World. This was a fantastic surprise for those of us who had enjoyed seeing Grimly as the main villain in Wham's Eagle-Eye strip. Too good to be confined to one comic Grimly Feendish was one of the best remembered characters of British comics. Artwork on this first episode was by Grimly's creator Leo Baxendale. Later, Stan Macmurtry and others would take over, but it's Baxendale's version that remains in the mind.

My first issue of Smash! was issue 2, but after then I was hooked, with it instantly becoming my favourite comic of the 1960s. Rival comics Beano and Buster may have been slicker, but for me Smash! was funnier. Soon, its contents would add more variety with British adventure serials Rubberman and The Legend Testers, and American reprint with Batman and The Hulk, making it into an even better comic in my opinion.

Sadly, perhaps the mixture of UK humour, adventure, and Marvel reprint that some of us relished was too much of a odd combination for readers who liked their comics compartmentalized. In 1969, after the other Odhams comics had fallen by the wayside, IPC turned Smash into a more refined but also more standardized comic. We'd never see its like again.

However, 45 years ago that was all in the future. On this day in 1966 it was just the beginning for Smash, and readers were in for a treat!

My previous posts on Smash's companion comics:

The launch of Pow!

The launch of Fantastic:

The launch of Terrific:

A look at an early issue of Wham!

There are also other references to the Odhams weeklies elsewhere on this blog. Use the search facility in the sidebar to look for Moon Madness, Frankie Stein, The Cloak, and more!


John Barleycorn Must Die said...

I picked up 'Smash' at issue 23 because Batman appeared on the front cover, New York Times re-runs I think? 'The Legend Testers', was by far the best strip, a bit like TV,s 'Time Tunnel'. I didn't buy 'Smash' after its amalgamation with 'Wham' at issue 75. Rollo Stones and Danny Charters vanished to a place in history with the sighn off,'...where that place will be, no one can fortell! no one- not even the legend testers! Where are you fellas? I miss you.

Lew Stringer said...

I think you have your Power Comics slightly mixed up, which is understandable as they were similar. Wham! merged into Pow! with POW! AND WHAM! No.53. Later, Pow! merged into Smash! with SMASH! AND POW! No.137.

You're right that The Legend Testers ended with No.75 though, replaced with reprints of Daredevil of all things. I was never a fan of DD's early stories so I dropped Smash! a few months later too. (I soon started buying it again though as I missed it.)

James Spiring said...

Minor correction. You put Brain's Brain instead of Brian's Brain.

Peter Gray said...

Wow reading some of those it really did have a different flavour to other comics..e.g The Numbskulls..to The Nervs..

The title Smash! really sums up the whole comic..quite brash..strong..and now looking back a very pop art 60's name..

Its great reading your views on this comic..I wish I could of been there in the 60's...
Oh well the new comics I bought are Hoot!..Oink..School fun..Wow!..

Now to reread those other pages on Smash! at your blog..

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, Smash, Wham, and Pow were quite violent in their slapstick but it was all in good fun. I'm sure comics never harmed anyone, despite what some may think. It's a great shame such comedy was reigned in for later comics.

John Barleycorn Must Die said...

Thanks for the correction,Lew. Did Smash realy not merge until issue 53? I guess not. Wow, I supppose 45 years is a good long time!

Lew Stringer said...

You're mixing it up with another comic again. See my earlier reply about mergers.

John Barleycorn Must Die said...

'O' yes! Pow merged into Smash with Smash and Pow, issue 137. I think I get it!

Tony Howson said...

Strangely enough I also started buying Smash! with number 2 and only picked up #1 on ebay last year.

My favourite comic of the sixties. Ok - my absolute favourite strip of that era was the Cloak who was appearing in Pow! - but at least he joined Smash! for 26 weeks at the end of it's glory days. I stayed with the comic until the merger with Valiant.

Lew - I'll always be grateful to this blog for bringing Brian Lewis back to my attention. He was the unsung hero of my childhood with his work on Space Jinx and Moon Madness. Smash! #9 with the shadow falling across Luna 9 was my Year Zero for culture. More than anyone he contributed to my lifelong obsession with comics but he died before I even knew his name.

Remarkable how he could switch between humour and adventure - i think he did a few House of Hammers and 2000ADs (Death Planet ?) toward the end. Didn't he create the first ever female 2000AD lead ? (years before Halo Jones and Durham Red)

I loved the Legend Testers but had no complaints about the Bill Everett and Wally Wood art on the Daredevil strips that replaced them. More than anyone else DD was my Marvel hero because I'm just old enough to remember his debut. He's the watermark that divides classic Marvel (FF, Spidey) and modern Marvel (Captain Mar-Vell, Silver Surfer) in my world.

But regarding Smash! all I can say is ... Best. Comic. Ever !

Lew Stringer said...

I think you're right about Brian Lewis's contribution to 2000AD. I'll have to dig those issues out.

I agree about the early DD stories. I think it was the Gene Colan reprints where I lost interest. (I like Colan's Dracula work but not keen on his Daredevil.)

NP said...

I got SMASH No1 but missed No 2. All the kids in our school yard were playing with those jumping frogs but not me! Issue 3 I kept! What I liked most about SMASH (apart from Moon Madness, Queen of the Seas, Space Jinx, Grimly Feendish) was that you never knew what would be in it. One week, there's the Hulk! Who or what was that?! Another week, Batman! Yes, off telly, that Batman! Every week, a surprise! (I had moved over to POW! by the time Daredevil came out but was tempted by Wally wood's artwork. By 1967 I was reading Gene Colan's Daredevil in the American monthly, don't know why I liked it so much- I would often pick it up in favour of Spiderman or Fantastic Four! Go figure!)
Many years later, in about 1992, I eventually bought a copy of SMASH 2 - no free gift, though- and, worse, NO CENTRE PAGES! In 1997 I fianlly read the missing episode of Space Jinx! Ahhh- and relax...

Arnaud said...

Jean Roba's "La Ribambelle" seems to be a huge inspiration for Charlie's Choice characters. Well, perhaps a bit more than inspiration... More about la Ribambelle : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Ribambelle

Lew Stringer said...

There's a similarity but I think it's just the way kids are often cartooned, with large heads and a mop of hair. It more likely Brian Lewis was encouraged to imitate Leo Baxendale's style more than anything else, as Leo's style was the "house style" of Odhams humour comics.

Arnaud said...

It's not just the main character, the fat one is very similar too - same face, hairstyle and jacket (one of the Caimans characteristics). Unfortunately I can't do any scan right now. But you're right, that's the usual way to draw kids in the sixties

Lew Stringer said...

Some of Roba's work was published in Valiant in the early Sixties so it's possible it may have influenced Brian Lewis' humour style, but his own style is still dominant I think.


Arnaud said...

You might be right - I didn't knew Charlie's Choice before so I searched more pictures and foud thoses two pages : http://britishcomicart.blogspot.com/2010/07/charlies-choice.html

That's weird, the art (very good, reminiscent of early Baxendale indeed) has nothing common with Roba's style in those pages. I feel this influence only in the picture you posted here. Could it be another artist ? Or a strong evolution ? It mostly shows that I have much to learn about british comics (and language too)

(Don't get me wrong, I don't want to act like a sneaky rip-off hunter ; hell we all have influences !)

Lew Stringer said...

It's the same artist, Brian Lewis. He also drew the Space Jinx pages that I showed.

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