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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Comic oddities: Smash Fun Book 1971

By 1970 IPC's intention to dominate the children's comic market was in full swing. Smash!, which they'd inherited from Odhams in late 1968, had been turned from a balanced package of superhero, adventure, and humour strips into a more traditional boys' adventure weekly with a few humour strips as light relief.

IPC's revamped Smash! weekly had debuted in March 1969 (more on that here in a few weeks) but with Annuals produced so far in advance of publication, the Smash! Annual 1970 published in Autumn of 1969 year still had contents that reflected the pre-IPC Odhams version. It wasn't until a year later that IPC's Smash! Annual 1971 had contents and format that looked more like the average boys' annual such as Tiger or Lion Annuals.

Smash! Annual 1971 was a 160 page hardback reflecting the adventure-dominated content of the weekly. However, that same year saw the publication of a companion book, - a 96 page softback, all-humour title called Smash Fun Book.

Smash Fun Book 1971 seems to be quite a rarity, with no mention found on a web search apart from a few old eBay sales. I imagine many kids of the time may not even have known of its existence, as IPC were involved in industrial action from November 1970 through to February 1971, which saw several of the weeklies suspended, including Smash! Therefore advertising in the comics to promote the book was less than usual, (it was advertised in Smash! just five times) as the comics themselves were in limbo during the Christmas period.

IPC's reasons for producing two different Smash! books that year are unknown. At a guess, I imagine they knew from the Odhams letters pages that many of Smash's old readers used to be divided over "funnies vs adventure strips" and wanted to cater for both camps. The standard Smash! Annual included funnies as well, but the Smash Fun Book was 100% humour material.

The budget on the Fun Book was obviously lower than IPC's standard annuals. Softback, and on pulp paper with some appaling off-register spot colour, the book was almost 50% reprint. Included amongst the reprints were pages from Wham! and Buster, just a few years old, with characters names changed in a vain attempt to fool readers into thinking they were new. Leo Baxendale's The Tiddlers and Super Sir from the early Wham! weeklies became The Horrors and Puffing Billy, The Wacks became The Beat Boys, The Humbugs was re-Christened The Terrible Twins, and General Nitt and his Barmy Army became Sir Hector and his Hardnuts. (The same practice had been carried out in the Smash! Holiday Special of that year and in the weekly itself.) The Fun Book also reprinted Elmer and The Terrors of Tornado Street from Buster as, respectively, Wacker and The Terrors.

The reproduction of some of the reprinted strips was poor, but the quality of the brand new material in the book was high. The busy Mike Lacey cover featuring all the characters echoed the sort of covers that the Odhams books had produced. Inside, the book featured a handful of artists tackling several different strips. Leo Baxendale contributed just two strips: the Bad Penny and Sam's Spook stories near the front of the book, funny stuff as always. (A panel from Baxendale's Sam's Spook is below.) Further on in the book the same characters were handled by Terry Bave.

Mike Lacey contributed a few pages for the book, including The Touchline Tearaways and The Haunts of Headless Harry. Veteran artist Cyril Price (below) had several pages too, producing some distinctive work on Percy's Pets. (Price had been a regular artist on Georgie's Germs for Wham! but his career had spanned decades.)

The most prolific artist in the Smash Fun Book though was Terry Bave. He had been a contributor to Wham! in the mid-1960s (taking over Sammy Shrink from Dave Jenner) so at this time was still at an early point in his career. His contributions to the IPC funnies would be numerous, becoming one of their top artists. Even here, in 1970, his work on the Fun Book showed his clear storytelling ability. It's some of his best work of the period I think, with the highlight being a four page Swots and Blots strip including a full page drawing of a robot rampaging through the class.

Although the Smash! Annual continued past the demise of the weekly and into a 1976 edition, there was never a second Smash Fun Book. Presumably sales were not great. A pity, as its tidy format (just 25.5cm x 19cm) made it a nice stocking filler, - or might have done had it been advertised more perhaps. However, compared to the sturdy, better printed, and more established DC Thomson annuals, this 8/6d softback with its off-register colour and patchy repro of the reprints may have seemed poor value, dooming it from the outset. Nevertheless, the book remains a fun read and worth seeking out to add to your Smash collection.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahh... I had this one! I wouldn't say that the Smash! Fun Book wasn't well known at the time, as it always seemed to be mentioned in the ads - at least that's how I recall it - and on Saturday afternoons in WH Smiths and Asda. While I got the Annual for Christmas, it wasn't until after New Year that I bagged the Fun Book for 15p on Stockton Market!

In hindsight it does look as if IPC were trying a Best of Both Worlds approach by having the cover look like the Odhams type of cover.

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