The old school fustiness of The Beano and The Dandy, the wild-haired anarchy of Whoopee! and Whizzer and Chips, the gritty machismo of Commando and Victor, the doe-eyed heroism of Bunty and Mandy. The early 1980s was arguably the golden age for British comics. It was an era when the bottom shelf of every street corner newsagent was an explosion of outlandish characters, and when chortling tales of snakes, shiners and slippers poked from thousands of battered Puma holdalls on rainy Tuesday mornings.
And, in an equivalent imperial phase for the humble felt-tip pen, it was perhaps no surprise that many of were driven to create our own comics, too. A with all the great self-penned novels of our collective childhoods, most of these never progressed beyond a lurid front cover, but Leicester schoolboy Mike Scott had loftier ambitions…
(Reader’s Voice: “Does that mean he found these in the attic?”)
Guffaw… chortle… etc…
Over to you, Mike.
EVEN THE PAGE NUMBERS ARE FUNNY
The Inside Story of Naughty Morty and Super! Comic
“It’s lunchtime in 1983 and my friend Andy and I are having an earnest discussion, the way nine-year-olds do. We love comics, so why not produce our own? It made perfect sense. Well, as much sense as our other main hobby at the time, which was re-enacting episodes of CHiPs using only one bike.
The plan was that we would each devise our own title, compare notes, and then ‘launch’ them to the waiting world. Or to the dinner queue, anyway. Itching to get started, I buzzed with impatient excitement all afternoon as I gradually hatched ideas.
I had no end of inspiration, as I was obsessed with the comic world. I devoured them all, ancient and new. The Dandy and The Beano were my set texts, but I sought out as many as my pocket money allowed: Buster, Knockout, Whoopee, School Fun, Cheeky, Topper, Nutty, Cor!!, Whizzer and Chips, Shiver and Shake…some had ceased publication long ago, but I made a beeline for them at jumble sales or gratefully inherited them from benevolent, loft-clearing neighbours. I became obsessed with their histories, their artists, their different house styles. While other kids my age might have had a poster of Toyah or the Leicester City squad pinned to their wall, I had a photocopy of the very first issue of The Beano from 1938, its front cover depicting the somewhat problematic antics of an ostrich called Big Eggo.
That evening I got to work designing the strips that had fizzed around my head all day. My main front-and-back-page character was Naughty Morty (the ‘Y’ in his name depicted as a catapult), a menacing schoolboy with spiky black hair and a striped jumper. Some may have questioned the originality of this creation, so to put their minds at rest I cleverly gave him a pair of Holly Johnson-style sunglasses. Some might also have questioned whether Morty was an actual recognised name, but if pressed I would insist that it was, of course, short for Mortimer. And anyway, he had a dog called Snorty.
Rhyming names were a big thing in comics, and mine boasted several: Crazy Daisy, Dick’s Tricks, The Champs and The Scamps. My favourite, and one I still think is brilliant, was The Doggies and the Moggies – a strip about a dog pound and a cattery that were, naturally, situated next door to one another.
Daddy’s Army was about a baby who, for reasons never fully explained, had an elaborate arsenal hidden underneath his cot. It’s a Dad’s Life! documented the woes of a father who had a thousand children. Snakes Alive concerned a boy called Arthur who owned two crime-fighting adders. Doctor Puss was a surgeon who happened to be an octopus. Kaptain Kidd was a depressed adolescent pirate. There were also several slightly strange and ill-defined one-page characters: Whirligig, Hip, Spiker, Curly and Herbert Acorn – the latter being a weird mole-like creature modelled on Arthur Perkins from Rentaghost. School featured heavily of course, including the Bash Street Kids homage Yessir! (the swot was called Cyril), and a strip about two disgruntled dinner ladies called Knife and Fork.
The next day I couldn’t wait to reveal these creations to Andy and hear what he’d come up with. I rushed up to him before registration and began blabbering excitedly about all the concepts I’d had.
He looked at me blankly. ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t really do anything on mine’ he said eventually, the rapture of the previous day clearly long forgotten. I’ll always remember that sinking feeling of disappointment – my incredulity that he hadn’t found the idea as intoxicating as I had.
Bah. I was on my own, readers.
Super! seemed a natural title – a slightly posh and archaic exclamation I was surprised had never been used before. In later incarnations I changed the title to Star, which I think was a misjudgment. In one issue, Super! ‘joined forces’ with a non-existent comic called Goody (yes, I wrote GREAT NEWS READERS on the cover), and I had to devise a whole new set of characters that readers could ‘meet’ the following week – among them Colonel Dishwater, Smart Alex and The Swots and The Blots.
Art material wise, I initially invested in a ream of A4, but quickly realised that A3 cartridge paper gave a more professional wraparound effect. I also relied on Berol felt tips, the turquoise livery of which will be more than familiar to junior cartoonists of the 1980s. I experimented with pencil crayon sometimes (and occasionally in regular pencil, because all comics had pages in black and white), but I didn’t like the wishy-washy effect. My parents urged me to go old-school and experiment with pen and ink, perhaps seeing Super! as more of a Ralph Steadman affair, but I never got the hang of it. The only time I really deviated from my beloved Berols was in the festive issue, where dabs of Tipp-Ex were deployed to give Naughty Morty the white Christmas he’d been dreaming of.
My grounding in old comics had taught me a few simple tricks of the trade, the same way a beginner guitarist might pick up rudimentary chords. I realised, for example, that eyebrows pointing inwards made a character look angry, but if this was accompanied by a grin rather than a frown then they suddenly looked mischievous. Point the eyebrows in the other direction, however, and the character looked embarrassed. I always liked drawing dads, because I found suits oddly fascinating, and of course all my teachers had mortar boards.
It was the construction of the comic itself I liked as much as the characters and jokes. It was important to me that it looked and felt like a comic. More often than not I would write a gag that I knew made absolutely no sense, and then write ‘Geddit?’ afterwards, because being seen to tell jokes was more important than the jokes themselves. Comics were full of things I didn’t understand, after all, so why should mine be any different? As one issue bafflingly boasted, ‘Even the page numbers are funny!’.
I produced Super! on and off between 1983 and 1987, losing interest in drawing comics at about the same time I lost interest in reading them. Few people saw copies outside of my family and a couple of school friends, including the increasingly bemused Andy… who had since taken up snooker.
I briefly attempted a comic ‘for boys’ called Beetle, and the less said about that the better. Fascinated though I was with ‘serious’ comics, I never really understood or loved them in the same way, and it showed. Mercifully, nothing survives of Beetle, although I remember one strip was called Could This Be…The Start of World War 3?.
This reminiscence ends on a melancholy note. I photographed the Naughty Morty panels to put on Twitter back in the spring…
… a post which inspired Bob to commission this piece. Like an idiot, however, I left the artwork on the window sill, and over the next few days the April sun scorched the page to a pale shadow of its former self. As such, this is now all that survives of that particular Naughty Morty story. What had survived pristine in the Super! archives for over 35 years is now a fading ghost.
Bob has talked before about old photographs being ghost-like, in that they literally carry the light of the people in them. They have a physical presence and meaning that digital pictures simply don’t. Childhood art has the same fragile poignancy, and I advocate treasuring what you have. It makes for a better – and, dare I say it, more super – world.
Now, where’s that Monster Fun summer special?”
Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.