Felt Trips: “The Silver Flame” by Ben Graham

For several decades of the 20th century, the lowest shelf of every pokey, street-corner newsagent would groan wearily beneath the weight of a lurid assembly of gloriously overripe comics. From The Beano and Whizzer and Chips to June, Bunty and Misty; from the old-school derring-do of The Eagle and Commando to the bone-crunching futurism of 2000AD, these crinkled, 5p delights were precious school night treats, spread out on living room floors and candlewick bedspreads alike.

No surprise, then, that many of us attempted to create our own versions. We drew brilliantly inventive spoofs or imitations of our favourite titles: thick wodges of DIY felt-tip strips awkwardly stapled together and passed around obliging family members and friends, eagerly awaiting tacit approval. Among this teeny legion of aspiring comic book moguls was writer Ben Graham, now a writer and music journalist for the likes of The Quietus, but – during his childhood – the genius behind titles like this:

Over to you, Ben…

“I grew up in Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire in the 1970s and ‘80s. I was writing and drawing my own comics constantly from the age of about five to around 14, when I moved seamlessly into RPGs and then alternative music fanzines. My main influences were the UK reprints of Marvel comics, but I was also into books like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Dark Is Rising and The Wizard of Earthsea; Ray Harryhausen films like Jason And The Argonauts and Clash Of The Titans; and anything about King Arthur and his knights, which led to a love of what I generally referred to as “mythology”.

My dad was going through a phase of rediscovering his Scottish roots, and we always had summer holidays in Galloway in Scotland, near where much of The Wicker Man was filmed. He encouraged my interest in Celtic, Scottish and Irish myth cycles, as well as the Viking stuff that I knew from the Puffin edition of Roger Lancelyn Green’s Myths of the Norsemen ,and from Marvel’s The Mighty Thor and Tales of Asgard features.  

The Silver Flame starring The Man Called Mystic dates from 1979 or 1980, when I was eight or nine years old. “The Mystic” was obviously a Dr Strange rip-off, though the actual story was based more upon the original Captain Britain, with stone circles, Merlin, and references to “Otherworld”.

The free gift was probably a home-made badge – cardboard with a safety pin sellotaped to the back – though I can’t be certain if I ever actually got that far!

The Saga of Lugh I’d say came from around the same time but – despite my regressing from felt tips to crayons for the colouring-in – it looks a little better drawn. It was virtually a graphic novel, filling the whole of a 20-page A4 sketch pad, probably drawn over one long summer holiday. 1980? I’d decided that the Irish sun god Lugh was the likeliest candidate for a Celtic superhero in the vein of Marvel’s Thor, and went ahead and did my version of his battle with the Fomorian giant Balor, who I made into a kind of Irish cyclops with one deadly eye.

The Viking warrior on the cover of Cult Comic #2 and the Gamma 6 comic came a couple of years later: it’s 1982 and I’m 11. The science fiction imagery and cynical humour of the Gamma 6 cover suggests the influence of 2000 AD, but the material inside was still a mix of swords & sorcery and superheroes.

I’ve included pages from ‘Knights of Silver Tower’ and ‘The Mysterious Isle’ to give some of the flavour:

I’m not sure that I ever grew out of this stuff, as I now earn a precarious living as a writer, including as a music journalist for The Quietus and Shindig. A couple of years ago I self-published a science fiction novel called Amorphous Albion and I’m still into “mythology.” Under the influence of Alan Moore, I declared myself a magician on the top of Glastonbury Tor on my 40th birthday, and I’ve had the most enjoyable and rewarding decade of my life since then as a result. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Thanks, Ben! 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.