Last week, Felt Trips was proud to showcase “Horror Swamp” and the other fledgling Fighting Fantasy gamebooks produced in mid-1980s Fife by the 11–year-old Paul Gorman, with help from his primary school friend Will Pinfold. What Paul inexplicably failed to mention was that Will was already a veteran illustrator of his own solo publishing venture. A comic strip version of Indiana Jones as a cat. Called Pussyana Jones.
With the benefit of hindsight this feels like a glaring omission, so I’m relieved to report that Will himself, after reading said feature, elected to contact the Haunted Generation website directly with the full, unexpurgated story of this extraordinary creation. It is a story of unfettered childhood ambition, curiosity about the culture of ancient civilisations, David Yip in The Chinese Detective, and watching films backwards by rewinding rented VHS tapes.
Over to you, Will…
“Pussyana Jones, disappointingly, wasn’t some sexy James Bond, or a Blaxploitation-inspired femme fatale. He was just Indiana Jones as a cat, with buck teeth, drawn by two children from rural Scotland. There is not much depth to his story, but – unlike the strips themselves – there’s quite a bit of background.
With the passing of time, every detail of this story now sounds either quaintly surreal or just plain peculiar. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first film I ever watched on video, after my parents rented a colour TV (a first for us, embarrassingly; I was an adult before I discovered that Bagpuss was pink and not ginger as I’d assumed) and a VCR from wherever it was you rented TVs and VCRs from in the early 1980s. I must have been eight or nine and strangely, I don’t remember having heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones before; I just remember the excitement of being in a video shop for the first time and seeing Harrison Ford’s face and ‘Executive Producer George Lucas’ on the case. I had very much heard of Star Wars. My younger brother and I campaigned successfully to rent it, and I think my sister chose The Watcher In The Woods, which gave me the creeps. I’m wary of seeing again in case it doesn’t – as it can’t – live up to the eerie atmosphere that it had in my memory.
I already had an interest in South America that was sparked – I think – by the Tintin books, The Seven Crystal Balls and The Prisoners of the Sun, but the opening section of Raiders… fuelled it further, and I remember getting excited about doing a school project about Aztecs and Incas but shamefully changing to planes instead (I liked them too) after classmates teased me about ‘Spaztecs and Stincas’. That’s kids for you. That first viewing of Raiders of the Lost Ark stayed vividly in my memory though, not just because of the film, but also because of the novelty of the situation. This seems unimaginably tedious now, but immediately after watching it my brother and I then watched the whole film in reverse, mesmerised by the melted Nazis reforming and the explosions putting everything back together. Odd kids, you’d think – but reversed footage was still a novelty and routinely used for comedy effects at that time. Which show was it that had a sketch where they demolished the wrong factory chimney then pulled up the plunger on the detonator to put it back up again?
Shortly after that experience, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was announced and excitement was running high. Spoilers were not an issue for 1980s kids, and part of that pre-release excitement was fuelled by reading ‘the book of the film’: a large format, simplified-for-kids re-telling of the movie, illustrated with stills. Do these still exist? The first of these that I remember reading was the Return of the Jedi Storybook, but most major U or PG-rated blockbusters had one. Even – somewhat optimistically – David Lynch’s Dune. I remember buying the Temple of Doom book from the Scholastic Chip Book Club – which my primary school participated in – and reading it from cover to cover, poring over the photographs and trying to copy pictures from it. My dad was an artist and there were always plenty of pens, pencils and paper around the house, so me and my brother were always trying to draw comics. We both loved superheroes, but also Tintin and Asterix, and I think at this point in 1984 I had a subscription to Marvel UK’s monthly (not great) Indiana Jones comic, whole my brother bought their similarly patchy Star Wars Weekly.
I don’t remember the genesis of Pussyana Jones himself. I think we just found the idea funny and – crucially – it was far easier to draw a cat than Harrison Ford. Pussyana mainly existed as set-piece pictures – like the Temple of Doom movie ‘poster’ – rather than in comic strips, but a couple of never-finished stories still exist. Interestingly, neither is a straight adaptation, although I think we started a Temple of Doom strip. One is the cover and first page of a dubiously-titled adventure called Deadly Rubber, wherein Pussyana travels to South America (no specific country given) to look for a gold relic called ‘The Skull of Torrepani’, placed in a temple by the long-extinct ‘Honcho Poncho’ tribe. It’s hard to say where the adventure was going. On the first page (a tough-to-read combination of felt tip and pencil), ‘Pussy’ – as he is known – decides to stay overnight in an old deserted rubber plantation, only to be ambushed by his dastardly enemy, a dog called Geloq… ‘inspired by’ Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Nazi-assisting French archaeologist René Belloq. But the chances are the artist had not thought any further ahead than that. I’m not sure why I kept it.
The same is true for the five-and-a-half pages of Summer Holiday?, a light-hearted romp in which Pussyana and his friend Meow Can have their holiday in Spain interrupted by – him again – Geloq. Meow Can was ‘based on’ the Temple of Doom character Wu Han. One consequence of reading about the film before seeing it was that (as with Star Wars and its toys) kids knew the names of characters who might barely register onscreen, and their importance was duly inflated. Wu Han (like Wedge in Star Wars) was a cut above most of these ciphers, because he was played by an actor I recognised; David Yip, then best known then for the 1981-2 TV show The Chinese Detective. Which I remember thinking was a cool show, although that’s all I can remember about it at this point. I guess my parents must have watched it.
In Summer Holiday? (seemingly just a prosaic title, but perhaps also pertinent is Cliff Richard’s then-20 year old film musical Summer Holiday, which I think every British schoolkid in the 1980s was familiar with), the action begins on the first night when Pussy and Meow (you have to bear with me here) decide to sleep in baskets on the floor and not in their beds – an unusual reference to their cat-hood. A wise move, since Geloq, posing as a waiter, somehow sets fire to their beds and locks the room. The two cats escape with their luggage and, after similar misadventures the following day, the scene abruptly changes (‘next day at New York’) and a new adventure begins, wherein Pussyana seeks a gold Buddha ‘somewhere in the Himalayas’.
What is, to the best of my knowledge, Pussyana Jones’s last adventure ends almost poignantly, when Pussyana, contemplating (I think , it’s hard to say from the scrawl) a meal, says, ‘oh boy, this is going to be good’ and then the story comes to a halt mid-page with ‘Soon’… and an empty panel. Presumably I got bored and forgot about it. Marvel’s Indiana Jones comic lasted only eleven issues, the last being in August 1985, and by the time of 1989’s (to me vastly inferior) film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade I was in my teens and immersed in horror fiction, heavy metal and comics like The Killing Joke, Watchmen and Sandman. Pussyana’s day had long since passed and he became – as you can imagine – an embarrassing memory; but I kept his adventures anyway.”
Thanks, Will. And his blog is here…
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.