This is WORRISOME WILF, the little boy with the BIZARRE imagination. Created by Martin Gordon and myself, his series of funny adventures for younger readers begins with BEASTLY BEDTIME. This hugely exciting project will be launching on Kickstarter in Spring 2013. You can find out all about the world of Wilf on his very own website or visit his Facebook page for regular updates. Wilf is also on twitter @worriwilf Come and say hello and join in the fun!
Let’s face it, we’ve often wondered who’d win in a scrap between Judge Dredd and Bergerac. And now I can tell you! Click on the link to watch these two legends slug it out on the FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! blog
Back in the 1970s, before the likes of Action and 2000AD bazooka-ed the British comics-reading consciousness for good, there was a popular weekly that didn’t concern itself with anarchic violence and future shocks. Instead, it peddled a formulaic but successful blend of sports-related adventure strips, gags, posters, quizzes and facts. That comic was Tiger (what a name!) and my pre-Dredd love affair with it began when my Nan’s neighbour gave me an enormous pile of them one summer when I was about 7. As Nemesis the Warlock and the ABC Warriors did later, Tiger strips like Skid Solo and Martin’s Marvellous Mini added a turbo-boosted charge somewhat lacking in current reading like The Beano, Buster and TV Comic.
It’s one of life’s lasting ironies that all kids want to be adults and vice-versa. Tiger straddled this challenge nicely by giving me adventures starring adults that my Dad happened to love reading. We bonded over the weekly quiz and poked fun at some of the daft photos of sporting luminaries on the back pages. Was there really a ‘Your Choice’ picture of John Hollins and Ian Gillard decked out in full QPR kit, sitting on motorbikes and reading their fave comic, Tiger? We’d also have a good old chuckle at the aforementioned Skid Solo strip, where evergreen F1 racing legend Skid Solo (Mrs Solo’s eldest) would tear-up the world’s most exotic racing tracks assisted by his loyal and dextrous crew: an excitable Scot called Sandy McGrath. What tickled us in particular was Sandy’s almost-weekly shout of ‘Hoots mon, ye’ve just broken the world lap record!’
Unashamedly comical was Hot-Shot Hamish, the hilarious and often pathos-strewn tale of a lovable lummox who sported a fierce blonde mullet long before the term was invented. Hamish Balfour played for Princes Park in a jersey five sizes too small and got cramp when he had to sign autographs. His manager, Mr McWhacker, would watch proudly as goalkeepers stood quaking between the posts in anticipation of the famous ‘hot-shot’ – a cannonball blast from Balfour’s boot that could send the goalie into next week’s strip. Aided by his pet ram, McMutton, the unwieldy Hamish wreaked havoc upon his rivals’ nerves until a case of the galloping yips would often send him into a softly-shooting slump.
Like a pre-Viagra loss of libido, a recurrent theme in Tiger was a sudden paralysing loss of ability, inducing a crisis of confidence that ultimately kept our characters both stoic and heroic. One such protagonist, who surely suffered more than all the saints combined, was Billy Dane, star of the excellent, long-running Billy’s Boots. A nice kid with zero talent, Billy lived with his poor, sweet Gran and tortured himself over dreams of sporting excellence. One day he found an old pair of ankle boots in the loft and discovered that they belonged to footie legend ‘Dead-Shot’ Keen. Trying the boots on for size he learned that they made him play exactly like Dead-Shot, leading him intuitively into goal-scoring positions for the school team and, against all odds, right the way up to England Schoolboys. ‘But what will Billy get up to in the summer holidays?’ we cried. ‘Fear not,’ said kindly Uncle Tiger; for once the soccer season ended, a benevolent cobbler gave Billy a pair of old white boots that conveniently belonged to Dead-Shot, who was, you guessed it, also a pretty wicked cricketer in his time.
Off the pitch Billy endured terrible luck and rarely received anything other than a knackered old turnip for Christmas. But on those occasions when the boots hadn’t been burnt, busted or bunged into a river by bullies, he ruled the football field like no other. Well, apart from Roy of the Rovers and ‘Nipper’ Lawrence, Tiger’s other great football strips of that era.
Generally, Tiger’s art was super-dynamic and made a feature of striking covers that burst brazenly from beneath the classic yellow logo. I marvelled at the discipline of those artists who produced such fine work on the same strips for so many years. For a long time my favourite was Sandy James, the artist on Johnny Cougar, who had a very clean, slick style – heavy on dazzling character portraits that practically leapt from the frame. ‘The Redskin Wrestler with the iron grip’ was a grim-faced hunk in a headband who terrorised wrestling rings whilst getting into all manner of fantastical scrapes. Aided (or jaded, as was often the case) by his crusty sidekick Splash Gorton, a beatnik with a pet penguin called Ice Chick, Johnny would fight anyone: wrestlers, crooks and even robots. The ‘injun matman’ had a neat line in lingo, usually think-bubbling ‘By Manitou!’ or ‘Wah! Heap big problem for Cougar!’ as an unscrupulous adversary sat on his larynx. Best of all, whilst deftly chuzzing an opponent out of the ring, was the lofty assertion: ‘Hookhai! The Cougar strikes!’ Once, when challenged to fight in a ring suspended perilously between two cliffs, Johnny fell to his apparent death. Cracking his bonce on the riverbed he then lost his memory and reinvented himself as a Country and Western superstar called Whistlin’ Kid Crawfish. Actually the last bit didn’t happen but it might have been a whole load more believable than my favourite ever Cougar tale where he battled against a fearsome opponent called Grarg. Bitch-slapped and humiliated by the taciturn foe, Johnny smelt a rat and did the decent thing by following Grarg to his lair, a remote castle complete with laboratory, where the reason for Johnny’s demise is breathtakingly revealed: Grarg is actually a robot! This strip really sealed the deal for me when I received that mighty Tiger-pile and I continued reading for long after.
In fact it only dawned on me recently that I stopped buying Tiger when my parents divorced and I went to live with my mum. Was it a coincidence that I pulled the plug on it once my Tiger-loving father wasn’t around as much? Well, not really. The truth is, by then Tiger had been wholly replaced by the thrill-powered 2000AD in my affections. I only continued buying it through sheer loyalty to the once-exhilarating publication that accompanied me through all those golden 70s summers of sport. Times had changed and by the 80s Tiger was slowly faltering. There were only so many stories where Skid could break another lap record or Billy Dane could utter, ‘Crumbs! I wonder where the old boots are taking me now?’’ I vividly remember my heart sinking one week when I saw Big Daddy lurching from the cover like a fat, sequinned zombie. Grarg the robot had been replaced with a real-life showbiz wrestler and the end was surely nigh. And so it was that in 1985, after starting in 1954 and roaring for an astonishing 1,555 issues, the once-mighty Tiger was finally swallowed by a revamped Eagle.
This article first appeared in the ‘Brits on Top’ series for the Broken Frontier comics website http://www.brokenfrontier.com/
If you think Doctor Who Confidential got a rough ride recently from BBC3 then spare a thought for the 1970s Doctor Who production team. Their projected sister-show, ‘The Secret World of Doctor Who’, never even made it to transmission. Find out how it almost happened in my latest STARBURST strip right here http://t.co/5sG9l3mX
The Ogrons return in my latest Doctor Who-themed Starburst online strip. It seems that many folks have a soft spot for the lumbering lunks who first appeared in 1972′s Day of the Daleks, so surely it’s time for a return? http://bit.ly/rmA0TG
We all know that Doctor Who Showrunner Steven Moffat is a genius. But can he make a decent cuppa? Find out in my latest STARBURST comic strip, ‘Steven Makes the Tea’ http://t.co/mYVl5di
I’ve had some more self-penned Harry Hill strips out in The Dandy Comic recently and, seeing as I’ve been asked on occasion about the strip-writing process, it seems like a good opportunity to reveal a little bit about my approach. You can check out Nigel Parkinson’s site (see links, right) to glean a few secrets about his prodigious penmanship. I’m regularly gobsmacked by how quickly, deftly and hilariously he produces his work, but I’m guessing that thirty years of creating top-drawer art on a weekly basis may have something to do with this!
I usually start with a theme that grabs me; one that can be stretched over 2 (sometimes 4) pages, incorporating many frames. The Harry strip is rather different from many comic strips in that it isn’t just a single-page sequence building up to a theme-related pay-off. It carries its premise across as many detailed sight or pun-related gags as possible, often with diversions. A good example is the recently published 4 page Bubbles strip. What inspired it was simply the thought that bubbles provide great scope; what with bubble baths, perms and cars, ‘bubbly’ TV personalities and speech bubbles etc.
Nigel regularly has Harry visiting a whole range of bizarre factories so I thought it’d be good if he and Knitted Character visited the location where all the Dandy speech bubbles end up. It was great fun playing with some of the established symbols of comics and I was delighted with the end result. Nigel absolutely nailed the script and, as usual, improved it with his choices. Gifted cartoonist Paul Cemmick once told me that drawing strips is like directing a film. You have to make exactly the right choices within the frame to convey the story successfully and Nigel is an expert at this, to the point where he makes it look easy.
Here are a couple of examples of my Bubbles script with Nigel’s finished work beneath.
5. Large panel. Harry and KC walk between massive stacks of speech balloons, piled up like Pringles. A few speech balloons lie around containing recognisable Dandyisms etc. A couple of others contain expressions such as YEOWWCH!! GLUURRGH!! OOF!! & AAARRRGGGHHH!!!
A few smaller balloons whiz up to the ceiling. Caption: Helium Balloons
On the floor a couple of balloons with arms and legs drink and dance, dizzily. Caption: Party Balloons.
Elsewhere, a couple walk around with rain and lightning coming out from beneath them. Caption: Weather balloons.
Nearby, a balloon jabs another balloon in its stomach.
Balloon 1: Oi, are you ‘avin an affair with my missus?
Balloon 2: Leave it aht!
Caption: ‘Soap’ bubbles
HH: This where all the balloons and speech bubbles are stored after being used in The Dandy!
- Tossing the other speech balloon over his shoulder, Harry picks up a pile of smaller speech balloons.
HH: You’ve been a bit quiet, Knitted Character! I’ll soon fix that!
2. Harry holds out the small balloons like he’s performing a card trick.
HH: Let’s play ‘balloon fish!’ Pick a balloon. Any Balloon!
3. KC leans forward and grabs one that says.
Balloon: I’ll have this one please, Harry.
HH: That’s a bit boring! Choose another!
In KC’s other hand is a smaller bubble that just says:
I tend to over-write my scripts, throwing in as many gags or detail as I’m inspired to – which leaves Nigel free reign to cherry-pick as much as he wishes. The bonus here is that some of the unused jokes can be used in later strips. Nigel writes the majority of the Harry strips and I’m happy to let him take away or add as much as he likes to mine. He always sticks to the original structure and includes most of my material. Occasionally the strip is barely altered with only a few minor additions/deletions, like Bubbles.
Sometimes, as with the recent popular Highland Games story, some of the page’s content will be radically restructured by Nigel. In my original draft, Harry was walking in the Scottish Highlands where he meets Michael Caine and David Cameron via a William Wallace digression. None of these characters actually made it to print. On page 2 he hears about the Games via an old guy in a small, pun-laden shop and then cycles there on a ‘wild’ mountain bike. Nigel moved the shop to an urban area, killed the bike idea (perhaps figuring it was superfluous because of the later action-based panels) and made the proprietor Gordon Brown! Perfect.
Earlier in the year, I felt as though I’d hit the ground running with my first submission, which had a theme of ‘Lords’. Plenty of scope with one simple theme there, I felt. I had Harry on the Thames and then in the House of Lords where he encountered Susan Boyle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Golem, a Little Britain character, Sir Alan Sugar and all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who! He then visits the jungle and encounters quite a few ‘I’m a Celebrities’. Before I knew it, Nigel and Harry had decided to develop the idea and somehow my first ever published comic strip had expanded from 4 pages into a 12 page special where Harry does all of the above via some doctor-related shenanigans and a trip into space!
After writing several Harry stories I realised that I was subconsciously channeling the Cheeky strips that I loved as a kid. A brilliant creation that started life in Krazy comic, Cheeky was an odd-looking cove (mostly drawn by the indefatigable Frank McDiarmid) who amused himself on his many jaunts by relentlessly wise-cracking gags and entertaining/infuriating as many characters as possible. Sound familiar?
One of the things I love about writing for the strip is that the premise is completely flexible and largely without constraint. Of course, there must be a character journey of sorts and some interaction between celebrities at theirs or Harry’s expense. Like its parent telly programme, TV Burp, there are plenty of juicy opportunities to go off at ridiculous tangents. Finally, in true comics-tradition, there’ll usually be an upbeat ending that incorporates a play on words relating to the theme. Even if this involves the character’s ‘downfall’ it should still feel EXUBERANT!
As a sci-fi loving teenager in the early 80s my regular reading regime consisted mainly of the always thrill-powered 2000AD comic and the monthly delights of a quickly-maturing Doctor Who Magazine. Whilst reading the latter it became increasingly hard to ignore the regular adverts for a fantasy film and TV magazine called Starburst. Its striking covers, often featuring the likes of zombies, Snake Plissken and scantily-clad females, were catnip to my curiosity and once I bought my first issue I was hooked.
Throughout the summer months I loved staying up with my dad to watch BBC2’s classic Saturday night horror double-bills, so to be able to actually read about those films in brilliant detail was like drinking from the Holy Grail. The photos that accompanied them were lovingly displayed and those that depicted scenes from the new wave of American horror films were often quite shocking. (Some of those films, later viewed at the height of the ‘video-nasty’ era were shocking for all the wrong reasons). A spread from John Carpenter’s forthcoming Escape from New York had me both fascinated and repulsed by riotous scenes outside the Choc-Full-o-Nuts that included an impaled head perched on a parking meter. Nice going, Starburst! I also vividly remember a colourful spread on 1972’s Tales from the Crypt featuring an image of Peter Cushing as the zombified Arthur Grimsdyke that was far more unsettling than any actual scenes in the movie. If it wasn’t for Starburst I wouldn’t have gone to see the likes of Time Bandits, a superbly-realised flick that I knew nothing about before happening upon a generously-endowed piece in the mag. Mind you, I also wouldn’t have endured the highly dubious double-billing of Krull and Saturn 3 at the Bolton Odeon. Nice going, Starburst! The sheer level of insight, humour and detail lavished upon all imagination-firing films and TV by the Starburst team kept me gripped for years. I have particularly fond memories of purchasing an issue almost entirely dedicated to my favourite film of all, Blade Runner.
Drawing a birthday card for my girlfriend Emily today I was reminded just how much I enjoy cartooning. Before concentrating on writing I used to draw non-stop. I even got paid for it on occasion! Getting lost in a picture whilst listening to good music must be one of life’s most rewarding pleasures. I love tackling caricatures too. Here’s one of Sir Ian McKellen from a while back.