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Saturday, March 10, 2012



by Richard Sheaf & Dez Skinn
with help from the good folks over at the Comics UK forum

One of the things I like about collecting comics is not knowing what’s out there to collect, it’s not like stamp collecting where it’s very clear what you’ll spend the next x years collecting. Why? Only one publisher (the Royal Mails of this world) of course. Luckily, comics isn’t like that and recently (as I’ve nearly finished collecting the titles that form my core comics collection) I’ve diversified into collecting titles that were published by companies other than Fleetway/IPC or DC Thomson – the nearest British comics have to the ‘Royal Mail’ in my earlier example. One such area of my collecting is examples of comics that never were – comics that got as far as being shown to potential readers and advertisers but never quite made it any further. These are pretty obscure and hard to collect, so imagine my surprise about a year ago when I came across a copy of a ‘comic’ whose potential readers, I guess, never got to see it because it never got much further than the drawing board.

Welcome to Whacko!, the comic that never was.

Let’s have a look at it and see what we’ve got here.

What it is is a dummy copy of a title, not a dummy that would have been printed by the publisher and shown to kids to gauge their reaction, no this this from a stage before that when, whoever it was was trying to get their boss to pay for thousands of copies to be given to kids. Sixteen ‘pages’ long, except they’re not pages, they’re thick card with photocopied art stuck down on top of it, stitched together in the middle and the front and back cover given a plastic coating to protect it.

Question is, who made it? As we’ll see as we go along there are good artists involved so that got me wondering whether or not it was a failed IPC project. Over to comics legend Dez Skinn for an investigation as to whether or not it was… this is what he had to say based on just a scan of the front cover:
i) The main title box: Nobody at IPC would be daft enough to miss the chance of making the logo stand out better with a full colour background. 
ii) The "1p" price. IPC would never have used a small cap for the P, which it is with the bottom of the 1 level with the bottom of the P. Neither would they have missed the chance to shout about the low price. 
iii) The topline as a title box tagline. Nah, not our/their style! 
iv) Jolly new comic? Jolly? No chance! 
v) The pencil and shadow lines would have been removed at proof stage (obviously Walls didn't bother with proofs so they didn't realise until it was printed that all the shadows and pencil would show!) 
vi) The title box for the cover story would be the same height as the first story pic (!). 
vii) The title logo's outline is very shaky. IPC's Central Art Department on the 6th floor of New Fleetway House used precision tools (now long gone) and would never have produced such a messy logo. 
viii) And that awful colouring. While the art and lettering's Fleetway standard, the colouring's appalling in both the strip and the title logo (black, green, yellow and red? Never!)
So that rules them out of the equation. As we’ll see from the strips and the proposed advertising this is a comic produced by or for Lyons. The content listing is as follows:

Where the art is unsigned the most likely artists name has been noted (in brackets). None of the artwork in the dummy is original – but the strips weren’t used by the artists anywhere else so they are unique to Whacko!, enjoy reading them.

So, what else can we deduce from our look at Whacko!? Well it must have been produced around 1971 as there is a decimal price on the cover but adverts in shillings & pence (decimalisation happened on 15th February 1971). Terry Bave’s serialised autobiography appeared across 3 issues of the classic British comics fanzine, Golden Fun (issues 15-17) but no mention is made of Whacko! there.

The stories are all unusual in that in none of them is the product they are promoting vital to the success of the story or a reward for the efforts of the character. Early ‘Tommy Walls’ stories in Eagle magazine had Tommy given almost superhuman powers once he had consumed a bit of his favourite ice cream. As the stories progressed it became more about the reward at the end of the story being some Walls ice cream rather than the ice cream enabling you to leap onto the wing of a flying aeroplane (see the very first issue of Eagle for that story).

To end our story, and for a bit of fun, Dez Skinn kindly got out his photoshop paintbrush and re-imagined Whacko! with a ‘proper’ IPC layout…


Robbie Moubert said...

Not sure I'd have guessed John Richardson on the pages ascribed to him. Brew-Up Ben is clearly drawn by Tom Kerr. The letters page is obviously an "It's All Yours" page from Valiant.

Steve said...

Hi Robbie,

I must admit that the era this most reminds me of is very early 1970s, around the same time as Jet and the adventure strips are more likely to be John Catchpole or Geoff Johns rather than John Richardson. I suspect Richard is right to date it around 1971 based on the fact that pre-decimal and post-decimal prices appear.

All the strips have clearly had their title panels cut up to include a Lyons lolly or instant tea/coffee-related title (Mr Softee and Tonibell were also Lyons brands).

It looks to me like someone got hold of some pages of an IPC dummy and adapted them as a pitch to Lyons as a potential advertising comic.

George Shiers said...

That's great! A really intresting find! How did you come across it?

I definatly prefer the photoshoped version to the original though.

Anonymous said...

It looks like The Yellowed Pages has lifted your scans and republished them. Never even gave you a credit.

Steve said...

The credit should go to Richard, as it is his article and scans.

I do my best to make sure things are correctly credited and copyright notices and permissions are noted as best I can manage. My e-mail address is visible to all, so it shouldn't be a problem to drop me a line and make a polite request to reprint something. Lots of people do and I've never refused once. In this case, I would have forwarded the request to the original author (Richard) for his OK as I can't speak for him. This has happened before and, again, I've never heard of an instance where any of the authors who occasionally publish here on Bear Alley have turned down a request to reprint.

But it would be nice to be asked.

Captain Storm said...

Hi Steve , I 've sent you an email just to let you know,


The Cap.

Captain Storm said...

Hi Steve , I have since been in contact with Richard Sheaf and all is well with the world again. Thank God!

The Cap.

Anonymous said...

The two previous comments look like an admission permission to repost was sought after the fact and only because you were caught out. Use the old *meant to ask but forgot* excuse? That other guy was dead right.

Steve said...

I think we can now draw a line under this. The person who reposted the scans has been in touch, suitably polite and contrite, and the necessary okays have been given. That's an end to it.

To answer an earlier comment from George Shiers, Richard tells me that he found the Whacko! dummy in a second-hand bookshop in central London, which doesn't offer anything in the way of clues to its origin.

However, now that's it's loose on the world, maybe someone who was involved will step forward and give us the full story.