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Sunday, August 05, 2018

Ken Reid!

After what feels like a lifetime, but was actually only a handful of months, I'm now in possession of the two volumes that make up The Power Pack of Ken Reid, or, as the covers of each book prefer, KEN REID! with a spiky word balloon to emphasise that this is being SHOUTED!

And the two volumes really are something to shout about. Across 414 pages, these sturdy hardbacks reprint every Ken Reid strip from Odhams' Power Comics, from the first page of 'Frankie Stein' in the debut issue of Wham! in 1964 to the last episode of 'The Nervs' in Smash!, just ahead of its IPC revamp in 1969.

Volume 1 contains the complete 'Frankie Stein' and 'Jasper the Grasper' from Wham!, the latter comparatively brief as it lasted only six episodes. Frankie, of course, went on to become a star in various papers, and even his own summer specials and annuals, although Reid had moved on long before. The monster created by Professor Cube as a companion to his son is a lumbering dolt, totally unaware that he is terrifying to most people... and therein lies the humour. His attempts to aid and give comfort to the shrieking, screaming people he finds himself surrounded by are mistaken for aggression and poor Frankie is left pondering why he seems to be the only one who can't see the repulsive monster that is clearly stalking the streets nearby.

Frankie, of course, is never swayed from his desire to help and the delusion that his help is desired and that makes him the sympathetic heart of the strip. Misplaced self-confidence is also the cause of so much anguish in 'Queen of the Seas', the strip that leads off volume 2, as it is the confidence of dimwitted Enoch Drip, captain of the Buoyant Queen, a rust-bucket vessel held together by barnacles, and his sole crewman, the blundering Bert Bloop. Together they operate a ship-of-all-trades business while clueless about how to safely sail the oceans or tackle any task, and the only confidence there can be is that each voyage will end in disaster.

This was Reid at the height of his Goons-ish lunacy – forty episodes of inventive idiocy that has never been bettered in a kid's comic and rarely equaled in almost any medium. The combination of a clever script and Reid's intricate artwork make this a classic. As with his work on 'Frankie Stein', Reid knew that anticipation was a vital element to humour and would introduce elements sometimes weeks in advance of the punchline they would be needed to deliver.

'Dare-a-Day Davy' is often thought of as Reid at his unfettered finest. Davy cannot resist a dare, and fights a losing battle each week with his inner monologues – his stupidity the Hyde to his right-thinking protector, his willpower (brought to life in the strip as Willie Power). With only one page to play with, Reid crammed in up to 20 frames a week, responding to a challenge set by one of Pow!'s readers each week to put porridge in a policeman's boot, or a hedgehog in his father's bed, or to rob the Bank of England. The strips included a number of hugely self-referential episodes – replacing the cream in the editor's Easter egg with liquid soap, or giving a haircut to a particularly hairy artist – which may have been his revenge for rejected ideas. A rejected episode (reproduced in the book) involved Davy bringing Frankenstein's monster back to life with a kiss, which even the editors, who had earlier allowed Captain Drip to be kippered to death, thought a gruesome step too far.

Reid's days on the Odhams' comics ended with a six-month run of strips featuring 'The Nervs', the tiny creatures operating the body of a guzzling goof named Fatty, forever at war in his insides with hilarious consequences to his outsides, from swollen knees leaking water like sprinklers to random nervous utterances, including asking a pretty girl out with the phrase "Hello, putrid date!"

At no point did Reid ever look like he was coasting. The background material compiled by editor/publisher Irmantas Povilaika reveals some of Reid's often uneasy home life during this period, but it only ever showed in a missed week or two, never in the strips themselves. Antony Reid provides a couple of more personal introductions about his father's work and character and there are introductions by myself and Nigel Parkinson leading off each volume. As a bonus, there are some Reid sketches and scripts from his 'Frankie Stein' days that round out volume one, which also includes his Annual appearances in colour.

In a year that has seen more strips reprinted than in any other, these two Ken Reid reprints are outstanding. I hope that Povilaika will now be able to get down to work on his Ken Reid biography, as the more we learn about the man through these two reprints, the more intriguing his story becomes.

You can order the books individually or as a pair via eBay or the Kazoop online shop. The IndieGoGo page is the only way the buy the boxed set with free prints or individual books with free prints, but I'm not sure how much longer that option will be available for.

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