by Glenn Matchett
Hardly the best title, I know, but considering the various subjects I’m going to cover I didn’t want to restrict myself to one genre. What I want to talk about in this article is growing up as a fan of comics/books/television and movies in general. The ones that inspired me to become a writer myself and the ones that for better or worse that have stuck with me through my life. I’m not sure how many articles it will cover but I do have a lot of ground to cover (nearly 26 years to be exact) so we’ll go with the flow and see where these articles take us.
There are a lot of my personal views in these articles and they are strictly my own. Some of them may be popular opinion, many will simply seem strange, but they are my own. I will do my best to justify my views and hopefully not come across as too picky or negative over things I didn’t enjoy. I have very low tolerance for things I do not enjoy; if something does not grab me quickly I soon lose interest and don’t bother with it very longer. On the flip side if I do enjoy something I tend to dive in and absorb all the information I can about the subject. I also tend to be very forgiving when something I enjoy does produce something of questionable quality but I tend not to be 100% blind and can see a bad egg among many good ones. I’m sure along the way this rather unique mindset I have will become clearer and I hope you all enjoy the little trip down fan boy memory lane you’re about to take with me.
I had trouble trying to decide where I should start. Every time I would recall something I could trace my life as a fan to I would think of something earlier. I doubted you all wanted to read about my time as a fan of ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ during my infant years so I decided to start with something that would inspire not only my love for reading but also be the catalyst for my love of the comic genre.
When I was young my mother owned a newsagent which sold papers, sweets, general items and magazines. Stores like the ones my mother owned are sadly rare these days but back before the dominance of chain stores it was a popular store. I grew up in this store usually watching cartoons on a black and white TV in the back office (we’ll get to that later) but it was in this store I read my first comics.
Among the many magazines my mother sold were a few comics. Two of which were the UK comic publications the ‘Beano’ and ‘Buster’. Published since 1938 (just a few years after a certain man of steel) the Beano is a very popular UK publication that comes out weekly and currently sits at over 3 thousand issues. Each issue features many stories about various characters including their main star, Dennis The Menace. I’m not talking about the Dennis that pesters Mr. Wilson with a slingshot but instead about a troublesome boy who with his best friend a dog named ‘Gnasher’ gets into various types of trouble since I began reading the comic. Often Dennis would be the star of one of the few strips to get two pages and often other characters would only have one page stories. Other characters featured in the comic were also ‘Minnie The Minx’, ‘Roger The Dodger’, ‘The Three Bears’, ‘The Bash Street Kids’ and way too many others to name. Often the stories would be relatively straight forward but now and again the stories would run from one week to the next but never for that long.
The Buster was a similar format and featured a similar titular character (who was a little more well behaved than Dennis) and many other characters. I recall it being a little bigger than the Beano and was too weekly. I don’t recall as many strips in the pages of Buster except one I really enjoyed called ‘Cliff Hanger.’ Apart from being a terrible pun the strip would feature a kid spy named Cliff who would get himself into cliff-hanger situations. In the last panel of his one page adventures the reader would be given the option of three options for Cliff to take. Often two of these options would lead to a bad scenario and the other would be the ‘correct’ option and see Cliff get out of his situation freely. I don’t know why it is this specific strip that sticks with me. I think I enjoyed the choices and different scenario’s the strip offered and I would be eager each week to see what situation Cliff would get himself into.
It was with these two comics I learned to read. They were easy reading and fun, often giving away free sweets to entice buyers and offering a different story every issue. To this day I have no idea who wrote or illustrated the stories within but to continually think of new adventures on a weekly basis for over 60 years is a commendable achievement. Both comics would also feature pop culture references to not only British soaps but also familiar national celebrity’s in a light hearted scenario feature very light satire. I read both comics for many years and certainly remember buying the last issue of the Buster when it ceased publication in 2000.
Over the years I even started to read a third weekly British comic titled ‘The Dandy.’ For many years I swore I was a Beano fan only and given the pot shots each comic took at each other assumed they were both bitter rivals. Of course I would learn several years later that they both belonged to the came publishing company and the words of rivalry was all part of the atmosphere they wished to create for their fans.
Eventually I would stop collecting the weekly British comics but for many years I kept them stored and would sometimes read some of the older ones for nostalgia. When we moved in 2002 or so I had a decision. Bring these with me or dispose of them. By this time I had other interests and quite a few things needing transport so I decided to get rid of them. Although my interests have evolved and matured over the years I will never forget those years I read the British weekly’s.
If it weren’t for them I doubt I would be reading (never mind) writing comics today and I doubt I would have the interest in many of the things I so greatly enjoy today.
At least I know what’s to blame.
Next: A talking Hedgehog with a fondness for chilli dogs