Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Whoopee and Wow! 26th May 1984

British weekly humour comics had become exceedingly weird by the mid-1980s. Sales had slumped, and publishers - like IPC, who published Whoopee - were struggling desperately to figure out just what it was the kids wanted to read - if they wanted to read at all, that was, what with the distractions of their wonderful ZX Spectrum 48k computers and BMX bikes. When a comic was cancelled, the strategy was to amalgamate it into another more robust title - hence Wow! had been incorporated into the longer-running Whoopee, a veteran of the early 1970s. But I don't think the latter title lasted very much longer - this must be one of the last few issues, I would guess. I found it, crumpled and yellow, in my kitchen cupboard, underneath a pile of copies of Bullet, a British adventure comic that I might have a look at a later date. Or I might not. 

So, anyway, Whoopee by this time was well past its sell-by date, struggling to survive, clinging on for dear life; in a perpetual state of identity crisis, with its editors anxiously reliant on the increasingly uninspired exploits of time-tested popular favourites like Sweeny Toddler (seen here on the cover, drawn by Tom Paterson), who was by now rubbing shoulders with an ever more motley crew of vaguely surreal, ultra contrived, conceptually bizarre characters and concepts, many of which had been rather hopefully salvaged from even less successful comics in the IPC Publishing line. So, dear reader, if you have a few moments to spare, let us pause from life's race and glance a while at a few of those weird, forgotten flops from the pages of Whoopee, before we consign them once more to the rotting heap of newsprint so akin to the eventual oblivion that beckons to us all.

 Let us begin with Stage School. This double page tale is adequately described by the title. A special school, full of the kind of brats that end up in Eastenders and The Bill. Taught by a quaint British comics style teacher, in mortar board and gown. Perhaps at the time it seemed somewhat exotic and outlandish to imagine such an institution? 

Looking back now it seems strangely prophetic. Note the junior Tommy Cooper. Is it Robert Nixon doing the art on this? 

Stage School epitomises the case for the reinstatement of corporal punishment. Bring back the birch. They all need a good thrashing, the little bleeders. 

We turn now to Creepy Comix. Once upon a time, comics were considered such a potent influence upon the nation's youth that questions were asked in parliament - yes, I'm referring to the Horror Comics flap of the 1950s.
Indeed, my Pater tells me that such was the furore once upon a time that when he was a lad his Dad tore up his British reprint of that fine EC publication Tales From The Crypt.

By 1984 it must have been apparent that comics had no influence whatsoever over anybody at all, certainly if we go by this strip, in which the comic of the title comes to life, producing horror monsters at useful moments - one of which is a demon, in fact - that pause from their rampages of destruction to help a young lad overcome the traumas of school life and get a good hot shower for the gym class - "Ooh, lovely!" Nice art by a very familiar artist whose name I have forgotten.

Family Trees is such a weird concept, you wonder how, and why, they came up with it.

It's a kind of soap opera type strip, by all accounts, but the characters are all trees. I believe the premise is that they are looking for a place to live. Each week, while they search, they dash out of the foliage - er, actually they are the foliage - have tree-fun doing exciting things like throwing coins down wishing wells (?) - but are forever thwarted in their attempts to find rest. Then they dash back into the foliage. Highly ecological, but exceedingly dull.

Boy Boss is another strange one. A kind of wish fulfillment fantasy where a kid runs a company; but the grim Jasper Ferret, the accountant, wants to stop him from having any fun, by forcing him to attend the meeting of "The Institute of Young Directors".
Of course, the joke's on Jasper when the other young directors are as outlandish as Boy Boss. Note the androgynous director of "Biff Records" and the frankly disturbing dog/bear man across the table. This strip is by Frank McDiarmid, who drew most of the Cheeky comic. His art saves this one.

Look who's on the joke page - the Krankies. Pause here to thank the lord that we don't have to see them on TV any more.  In classic comics style, the "Star Joke" is "told by" the Krankies by virtue of attaching speech bubbles to a cheaply obtained press photograph. Well, it sure beats booking them through their agent. Fan-da-bi-dozy! Incidentally, I think I have their LP somewhere, but I seem to recall it has a massive scratch across most of Side One, where, I suspect, a disgruntled yuletide recipient of said album expressed their dissatisfaction with the "music" contained therein. 

Spare Part Kit. I remember this character always gave me the creeps, as a child, and he still does. It was something about the premise - a boy who carried muscular arms and legs, and a "six-pack" torso around with him, donning them to become "bionic" - in combination with his knobbly knees and his goggle-eyed, curly-haired, Harpo Marx-like visage.  It sends a shiver down my spine. I'll say no more about it. 

Finally, Mustapha Million, the kind of light-comedy foreigner once so prevalent in the Great British comic, but who vanished from all mass-produced media sometime shortly after they stopped repeating Mind Your Language on ITV. We shall not see his like again.

A pretty ropey old comic, all told, but still I'm sad that they don't make 'em anymore. I was going to throw this issue of Whoopee out - but maybe I'll put it back in the kitchen cupboard for a few more years.

You will find this comic in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS.   

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