A couple of weeks ago for the comic's 50th anniversary I showed a selection of early pages from Sparky on this blog. I mentioned I didn't have issue 1 but Blimey reader Jimmy Tweed has kindly sent me scans of the front and back covers. Sparky strip artwork is by Ron Spencer.
Obviously I can't show a strip like that without comment. The interesting, and alarming, thing about this first Sparky strip is that the character is talking in that stereotypical way that was becoming outdated even by 1965 when this saw print. A small compensation is that from the following week, when Sparky moved to the front cover, his dialogue was in perfect English. Too bad his visual design remained based on that of 1930s character Sooty Snowball. It may seem hard to believe today that this strip debuted in the same time period that the Civil Rights movement was often in the news. Yet sadly this sort of caricature was still seen in strips, and in gag cartoons in newspapers and joke books in the sixties.
I'm sure no one was being intentionally racist. People are products of their times, and Sparky, like Stymie and his Magic Wishbone of decades earlier, wasn't intended as a malicious caricature. All the same, I can't help wondering how young black readers felt, already struggling to be accepted as equals, to see this over-exaggerated grass-skirted character on the covers of a new comic interacting with all-white characters who were drawn semi-realistically.
Race relations became a huge and important talking point in the sixties of course and eventually caricatures like Sparky were considered out of touch. The character was gradually phased out of the comic by the end of the decade. Sparky became a much better comic without him.
My thanks again to Jimmy Tweed for sending me these fascinating scans of comics history.