As I buy more comics that are as old as I or even older (no comments from the cheap seats please!), I am going to pick up some classic golden oldies. This week has been a perfect example where I have bought 2 Commandos that are older than I and I also bought the above named annual. Buying any comic that is 50 plus years old is always a gamble as you find what you buy may not always be in line with your tastes or modern sensibilities. However, it is still worth buying the comic as it is an interesting comment on the society of the day and what was considered acceptable.
And this annual is no exception. So let’s look at it objectively before we start applying our prejudices to it. The first thing you notice is the thickness of it. And that is due to two things. The first is the page count. That is a whopping 192 pages from front cover to back cover and that is a lot when you consider that most modern annuals are around the 128 page count. The second thing that adds to the thickness is the pages themselves. Rather than being thin paper, these are almost thick enough to be considered as card. They are easily as thick as the card used for modern toilet rolls and probably even thicker. Now, I could not tell you what the gsm (grammes per square metre) is but it is significantly more than we are used to in modern annuals.
The next thing that is noticeable about this annual is that time has not been kind to it. There are plenty of scuffs and fading to parts of the cover and the pages have had their exposure to natural light (natural light is the enemy of the perfectionist collector as any exposure accelerate the browning of the paper). However, all the stories are still readable and it presents a fascinating insight into what was acceptable social standards in 1930s Britain. Surprisingly it is only missing one page and that is the frontispiece which was a colour print that would have helped to justify the extra cost of buying this annual as a Christmas present for some lucky child as opposed to the standard cost of the weekly.
As you can see from the contents page, you get ten stories in 194 pages. For my reading speed, this turned out to be a good three hours or so of keeping me quiet and when you consider, I can work my way through a J K Rowling offering in less than six hours, you realise that there is a lot of reading in there.
Most of the stories seemed to have aged well with the exception of one due to the terminology and nicknames used within the title and the story. I think you can guess which one. The first story Boss Of the Caribou is a western set in the Alaskan wilderness and plays very well against modern ecological sensibilities when the animals are looked after, treated well, no malice is directed against them and the herd is being moved to save an indigenous tribe from starvation.
The second story The Crimson Wrecker is an early SF story with a remote controlled robot being directed to destroy all in its’ path as its’ owner had used it for monetary gain to destroy the competitor of those that had hired him to carry out his nefarious deeds. I have a feeling that this story may have been played around with and the result may have been The Crimson Ball that appeared in the Dandy in the 1960s. If I find out that is the case, I will get back to you.
Jerry Maguire – “Tack”tician is a story that I would have lapped up in my younger days, but now, it certainly makes for uncomfortable reading. It’s one of the “how smart is the white settler in helping out the African tribes” genre. While it is a comedy with the African tribes as extras, it does seem to imply that the white explorers are much smarter than the native Africans.
I have to mention the fourth story and say that the title just made me cringe and that was because the title is Sambo Black’s “Master”-Piece which is a fairly standard boarding school story where trouble is avoided with a teacher due to the excellence of Master Black’s ability to impersonate one of the more odious teachers and allows him and his friends to have a birthday feed.
I did think about not including this, but if we don’t look at why the use of this term was acceptable in society back then, then how can we move forward and understand that the casual use of terms such as this is so hurtful to people? I expect that quite a few people will be commenting on this matter alone both in my defence and to attack me for using the term. I can understand that, but I ask that we try to discuss this in as sensible a fashion as possible?
The fifth story is of the noble savage genre and it is The Rite That Went Wrong where the upright and loyal son of the chieftain has to break a sacred rite of passage in order to warn his tribe of an impending betrayal by his perfidious uncle.
Trustful Gets The Hang Of It is where a gullible cowhand who is honest as the day is long is almost hanged for the crime of murder when the murderer cons Trustful in going into the next town to collect money on his behalf. But in true DCT fashion, the hero is able to turn the tables and stop the murderer from getting away with his evil crime.
Banking With Blinker Bates is a crime story set on the Canadian American border where Blinker manages to foil some hardened criminals by his assertion of being a master pilot after hours of studying the 1930s equivalent of A Dummies Guide to Flying!
One of the stories that brought a smile to my face was The Gusher Of The China Sea. D C Thomson seems to have been the masters of stories featuring creatures of the natural world becoming over-sized monsters and this is another great addition to that story.
The Middy Mountaineers shows that there was certainly a fascination with Africa as this is another tale set on that continent. However, in this story, the Royal Navy takes on some bandits and are able to win the day due to dealing fairly with the natives and enlisting their help to overcome the bandits.
The last story in this annual is Jam For Jim Johnson and the title is an alliteration that Stan Lee would have been proud of. This time we return to the Americas and Jim Johnson is a Mountie that proves to get his man when two ne’er do wells attempt to cheat a town on their annual bet of when the ice will break.
Overall, this is an interesting read. I winced at the casual racism of using the term “Sambo” in any context, but I was also disturbed over the paternalistic view of Europeans’ behaviour in Africa. Admittedly we have the benefit of hindsight to see how terrible that racism was and we can look at how Africa is still paying the price of being the plaything of the Empires of Europe. And when we look at the USA, we can see that we still have a long way to go before we are all colour blind.
I hope you have enjoyed the review of an annual that came out before Superman or Batman appeared on our news-stands and I ask you all to remember that the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.