When I started this blog, I was aware that Valentine’s Day 2016 would represent the 40th anniversay since two comics came out. These were Bullet, published by D C Thomson and Action, published by IPC. But as the date approached, real life interfered and I forgot about them until comic artist Lew Stringer reminded us that he had discussed these comics on his blog back in 2008. He has had a second look at Action with a lovely post about some of the vibrant covers of pre-ban Action.
But I will add a little more where I can. And the cover artist for issue 1 is appropriately Jeff Bevan, a D C Thomson staff artist. This is appropriate as I am currently working on a Creator Spotlight article about the work of Jeff Bevan for the Down The Tubes website. The Smasher that featured in Bullet was actually a redrawn script that dates back to the 1930s when it had been printed in The Wizard and Dandy as a prose story. It was printed in the Victor as a redrawn picture story in the 1960s with Alan Philpott and Tony Coleman sharing the artistic credits.
The version that featured in Bullet had the always brilliant Terry Patrick and Ian Kennedy on drawing duties. This version featured above is an example of Ian Kennedy’s work on the series.
Looking through issue 1 of Bullet, two stories that still stand up well are Twisty and Vic’s Vengeance. Twisty is a grittier take on the football story than most D C Thomson fare with Twisty Lunnon having an almost uncanny ability to control the ball. Imagine Limp Along Leslie from the wrong side of the tracks if you prefer. And thanks to Barrie Mitchell for some wonderful art.
Vic’s Vengeance was the tale of a teenager who was out to get revenge against the local mob who has organised the death of his father. Definitely punching about the line for a D C Thomson story, but when we compare it to the competition, then we have a problem.
Action stories ruthlessly plundered social culture and pushed the stories and the characters right up to the edge of the envelope and beyond. In the cinema, we had Jaws, Cross of Iron and Dirty Harry, Action gave us Hookjaw, Hellman of Hammer Force and Dredger. And kids of the 1970s loved it. It was loved so much that Action was one of the few comics to increase its’ sales as 1976 went by. The original comic was in touch with what kids wanted at the time. But Action made one mistake, it tried to put across political ideas along with its’ ultra-violent take on the comics. Hookjaw wasn’t just a story with loads of gore and blood, it also was one of the first to put across an ecological message.
Hellman wasn’t a Nazi fighting mindlessly for Hitler, but he was a patriot fighting for his country just like all the other soldiers that fought in the Allied Forces. Even in the 1970s, many still could not accept the idea that not all Germans were Nazis.
Dredger was a British secret agent that owed more to Dirty Harry Callahan than James Bond. And Dredger was definitely not one of your stiff upper lip heroes as we can see from the centre panel in the second row. The attitude was definitely more punk rock than patriotic fervour.
As we can see from these three examples, Action was a lot more in tune with the times than Bullet was. The Sun and the Evening Standard ran articles about Action within weeks of the launch. It was The Sun that dubbed it “The Seven Penny Nightmare”. This brought it to the attention of National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association which led the campaign to censor Action. And in October 1976, Action disappeared from the shelves of newsagents for six weeks, while it was systematically toned down in order to assuage the concerns of the moral panic that was being created about this comic. And on its’ return, it was a lobotomised version of its’ former self and only managed to keep going for another 11 months before it was merged into Battle. If you are interested in looking deeper into the life and death of Action, then you have to try and track down Action: The Story of a Violent Comic by Professor Martin Barker.
On a purely financial basis, Bullet was the better of the two as it managed to last almost three years, whereas Action did not last two years. But for impact, Action is still sending out waves today, as without the manufactured moral panic that led to the demise of Action, we would not have the 2000AD that we have today.
So let’s celebrate these two comics. Launched on the same day, they produced wildly different results.
All images (c) Egmont and D C Thomson