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!