Monday, February 09, 2015

SMASH! The first 20 covers

When one thinks of the first series of Smash! comic (1966 to 1969) it may be the Batman strip of the covers that comes to mind. However, the comic's front page shifted and changed a bit before the Caped Crusader took up his position. Here's a look at all the issues leading up to that point. 

On February 2nd 1966 Smash! No.1 (above) debuted with a great Leo Baxendale cover promoting the free cardboard gun. The influence of Carl Giles was always evident in Baxendale's work of this period but Leo went in his own direction with it, enhancing his own style and bringing his creativity to every job. And it's incredibly funny too of course. 

Leo Baxendale was called upon to produce similarly manic covers to promote the free gifts in issues 2 and 3...

Issue 4 saw the arrival of The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E. (inspired by TV's Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and another cracking cover by Leo...
The cover to issue 5 was also by Leo Baxendale. Incidentally, the villainous 'Doctor Doom' was suddenly renamed 'Doctor Goole' in later issues to avoid confusion when Odhams started reprinting Marvel material. 
With issue 6, Ron Spencer became the new artist on The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E. doing a pretty good ghosting of Leo's style...
Issue 7, again by Ron Spencer. 
Issue 8, and a slight change, with B.U.N.G.L.E. as two panels this week. More great monsters drawn by Ron Spencer...
Uh-oh, here come the Chinese racial stereotypes on the cover of issue 9...
Issue 10, and an unusual Easter cover, again by Spencer...
Issue 11, again by Spencer...
Issue 12 saw a refreshing change with a split cover between The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E. (drawn by Ron Spencer) and a panel taken from The Legend Testers strip from inside by Jordi Bernet. Note the huge name check for Legend Tester 'Rollo Stones' in an attempt to get fans of The Rolling Stones to pick up the comic...
Issue 13 had a full cover B.U.N.G.L.E. illustration by Spencer again...
...as did issue 14...
Then with issue 15 a drastic change with a striking cover by Jordi Bernet for the latest Legend Testers adventure which was re-named The Trolls of the Under-Earth for that week. (You never knew what to expect in Smash!)
Issue 16 and The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E. was back, but this time drawn by Brian Lewis for one week only. Note that topline, - this key issue is when reprints of The Hulk started and Odhams relationship with Marvel Comics began...
Issue 17 proudly devoted its cover to The Incredible Hulk, reprinting Jack Kirby's cover from Marvel's Incredible Hulk No.1 (even though the story inside reprinted Hulk No.2). Marvel had supplied Odhams with black and white artwork but seem to have forgotten to tell them that the Hulk should have green skin...
Issue 18 saw the final Man From B.U.N.G.L.E. cover. A nice job by Ron Spencer. The character would later return as a comic strip serial inside the comic. 
Issue 19 and Smash! had abandoned its plan to pull in U.N.C.L.E. fans with a spoof, and instead went for the real thing by having an artist draw likenesses of Robert Vaughan and David McCallum on the cover. And why not throw in a likeness of Mick Jagger too, just to attract the pop fans? It was a plug for the Charlie's Choice strip inside but I don't know who drew the cover.
With issue 20 Smash! finally settled on a new cover star who would remain in place for the next couple of years. In a great coup for the comic, Batman had arrived, with Odhams gaining permission to reprint the strip from the American Sunday papers. Inside the comic, the contents had been steadily improving and adding new characters too over the first 20 weeks and now Smash! entered its golden age with a great mixture of home-grown humour and adventure strips plus reprints of Batman and the Hulk! Truly a comic to look forward to every week!
Batman ran on the cover every week (with one exception on No.34) until issue 114 when The Swots and the Blots took over for the rest of the run of the first series of Smash! I'm not going to show the rest of the covers as it'd soon become very tedious but I hope you've enjoyed looking through this selection of the early issues. Click each image to see it in more detail.  

26 comments:

Paul McScotty -Muir said...

Fantastic stuff Lew thank you for showing these long forgotten gems - SMASH! (in both its guises under Odhams and IPC) was one of my all time favourite comics, and I can still remember picking up issue one with the free gun and that amazing Baxendale cover, and even better finding it to be such a good comic - I didn't realise Ron Spencer drew so many covers in Leos style - all very nice. I was never a big fan of the Batman newspaper strips or having him on the comic but I suppose as it was on TV at the time it made (commercial) sense - no shame on Odhams though with all those attempts to bring in Rolling Stones fans - Brian Lewis' (a fantastic artist) Man from Bungle character looked too tall in his version. Ohdhams book just hold that certain magic for me even to this very day so this took me back to being 7 years old again (even if just for a few minutes)

paddykool said...

These are great old covers Lew. I really takes me back to my fourteen year old self again.Smash was so anarchic compared to anything else around .It was like punk rock ten years later.You can see why Marvel strips fitted in very well too because they were an "underground" treat then compared to dc National at the time with its much slicker but much blander Superman and Batman strips.Marvel was the template for much of what Power comics became .

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, Smash and its companion papers could be a bit rough around the edges at times but that didn't matter to us at all did it? The content and attitude was so lively and modern compared to their rivals. I couldn't give comics like Hornet and Victor the time of day while the Odhams comics were around.

paddykool said...

Yes Lew ...victor , hotspur and the like were losing ground by then. Smash, Pow , Wham and Marvel were the new thing...and then of course , they were the seedbed of the whole of comics fandom and fanzines that love of these comics inspired . They felt like a secret club back then.

Lew Stringer said...

Those more traditional comics were selling better than the Odhams ones though presumably, as they survived a lot longer. I always felt a bit disappointed that most kids I knew chose the more conservative comics over the ones that were more energetic and diverse.

As you said, those Power Comics were very important in the genesis of UK fandom, promoting the first convention and fanzines, and following Marvel's lead of talking about the production side of comics. It's a pity IPC didn't support it when they took over, but fandom continued to grow despite that.

Simon said...

pedant's corner - Hulk was of course grey, not green, in the original Kirby no. 1 cover :-)

Simon said...

Do you know, Lew, when UK comics reprinted US covers, was original artwork supplied, or did they send copies of some kind?

Lew Stringer said...

Ah, but as I said, the story inside reprinted Hulk No.2, so the colour of his skin on the cover should have been updated to green. There'd be no point colouring him grey as he'd been green a long time by 1966.

I would imagine Marvel would have sent them PMTs (Photo Mechanical Transfers) or some other form of high quality prints. Certainly not the original art, as much of that is still in the USA, owned by collectors.

NP said...

There's a comment about the Marvel artwork in a later SMASH!, which touches on how copies were made. If I find it I'll post it.

Lew Stringer said...

The News and the letters pages were excellent for behind the scenes stuff. It certainly beat the "my dog ate my comic" letters in Whizzer and Chips.

Anonymous said...

Lew thank you for sharing these comics, those first 3 issues of Smash promoting free gifts are as good as it gets. There was always a sense of anarchy going on when Leo is drawing. I was too young for Smash but back in 1983 a comic fanzine called British Comic World done a retrospective on it and I immediately became a fan ian

James Spiring said...

There was something similar to that W&C example in the current Beano - a naughty little sister defacing a comic with pink felt tip pen. Some things never change. Well, except that they show the evidence now.

As for Smash, if IPC hadn't taken over Odhams, and thus it hadn't been revamped in 1969, might it have lasted a few more years - until Marvel started doing their own UK comics? Or was it just not selling well by that time anyway?

Lew Stringer said...

I imagine sales were not as high as expected on any of the Odhams comics or they wouldn't have merged together. Not that IPC had much more success with so e of their comics.

Smash probably did need a boost, but dropping popular strips such as The Cloak just because they didn't fit into a formula seemed daft to me.

Some of the Marvel strips were catching up with the American comics so they couldn't have lasted much longer anyway.

John Pitt said...

I have been waiting ages to see a Smash gallery. Thanks a lot, Lew, and can I say I for one would definitely NOT find it tedious should you change your mind and decide to show us some more!
I can't remember which issue I started with, but it was pre-Hulk with the Man from BUNGLE on the cover.
Unfortunately, I never did get any IPC Smashes, so I missed out there, but I got ALL the Power comics, once they got the logo.

Lew Stringer said...

A cover gallery of over 100 Batman and Swots and Blots covers isn't something I'm going to spend time on John, sorry. Also, it'd only be half of each story, as the cover continued onto page 2. So if I did page 2 as well that'd be over 200 scans. Also, I don't think IPC or DC would be happy about me running that many strips they own the rights to.

John Pitt said...

No worries, Lew, - these first 20 are the most interesting. The Batman & TSATB covers would come across as a bit "samey" to most, ( but not me! )
We really need a database of ALL UK comics on the net!

Lew Stringer said...

Some sites are trying to do just that John. Have you seen Comics UK for example?
http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/index.php

John Pitt said...

Lew, it's been quite a few years since I last visited Comics UK. Popping over there now, I see it has changed beyond recognition, so I'm now back off to get lost in there!
( I may well be away for some while!! )

Lew Stringer said...

Sounds like you missed a lot John. Good luck catching up!

Simon said...

It would be really interesting to know about the process of converting Marvel art into Smash comics pages Nigel/ Lew - I wonder if any of the 'PMTs' have survived?

Lew Stringer said...

I think it'd be simply a case of cutting up the prints to arrange the panels to the Smash format and extending artwork with newly drawn bits, which they sometimes did quite badly unfortunately. I doubt they'd hang onto those pages. Even most of the original Smash art was destroyed when IPC had a clear out in the 1980s.

Nutty Big D said...

quite badly is an understatement, I'm sure the office junior got to extend the pictures sometimes!!

zippgun said...

I bought Smash and Pow (and sometimes Wham)in the 1960s. They were, for me, by far the best comics sold at the time. They were "cool", very attuned to the culture of the time compared to the rival titles around. I still had quite a lot of them and a few years ago I started to see if I could get a complete run. I have all issues of POW and am missing 1, 16 and 20 of Smash. The post Odhams Smash from 1969 to 1971 (?) was still a pretty good comic, but very different to the original. Power overstretched themselves, bringing out too many different comics and by 1968 were starting to amalgamate their titles.

I think "Mac", Stan McMurty, who does the regular Daily Mail cartoon, drew a number of the Odhams comics strips.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, Stan McMurtry did a lot for Smash. As a fellow enthusiast of those comics I hope you'll enjoy the other posts on this blog about them. Type the word Smash in the search window at the top left of this blog and you'll find numerous posts and pages from the great comic.

zippgun said...

I'll certainly do that.
Some of the "serious" original Odhams strips were quite outstanding - Rubberman, Experiment X, The legend testers, and The Python come to mind. There was also the gothic occult strip Cursitor Doom and the Victorian escapologist Janus Stark in the later Smash. All of these would adapt to movies. It's a bit surprising none of them ever have been - I'm sure some would if they'd been American.

Lew Stringer said...

Well, they haven't been in print for decades so I can see why they haven't been adapted into movies. Cursitor Doom was a very short-lived strip so although it's fondly remembered by us I don't think it was that popular with the majority of readers. Janus Stark would make a great TV series but most of today's young programme makers would never have heard of him.

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