Sunday, January 03, 2010
40 Year Flashback: SCORCHER No.1
Forty years ago today, on January 3rd 1970, IPC launched the first issue of their football weekly comic Scorcher. Although IPC had already inherited Smash! from Odhams and Lion, Valiant, Buster, and Tiger from Fleetway in 1969 Scorcher was the first new boys title from the company.
The new weekly was heralded in a full page teaser ad in the IPC boys' comics dated January 3rd (on sale just before Christmas 1969). Without further ado, Scorcher was launched the following week (dated Jan. 10th but on sale Jan. 3rd) accompanied by four page announcements in several IPC titles and short tv ads shown at teatime.
It was an impressive debut issue. An eye-catching logo atop a strong cover image by Mike Western, and a useful free gift whereby readers could plot their team's progress throughout the season on a wallchart graph. IPC were clearly keen to tap into what they perceived as a large fanbase for football reading matter. Several months earlier they'd launched the Shoot! football magazine, and had also just published several regional one-off soccer mags. Scorcher was IPC's first solid single-theme comic, breaking away from the usual anthology of war/detective/western/sci-fi etc. Theme comics would become the template for later titles such as Battle (war), 2000AD, (sci-fi) and Scream! (horror).
Inside, Scorcher No.1 featured a combination of serial strips and a few football features. It also included one humour strip, - Sub, by genius cartoonist Ken Reid. Although IPC had curtailed the comic horror of Ken's Nervs strips, (and stopped him signing his pages as per new company policy) Sub was still a funny strip.
As you'll have noticed, Sub was embellished in a grey wash, which does it no favours when subjected to the cheap newsprint that Scorcher was printed on. The technique was applied to several other strips in the comic, leading me to suspect that Scorcher was originally intended to be produced with the slick photogravure method that IPC later used on their next footie title, Score 'n' Roar.
Bobby of the Blues looked particularly odd with its clash of grey wash and spot colour. This first episode was drawn by Joe Colquhoun, but taken over by another artist from issue two, suggesting Joe's pages were produced for Scorcher in the dummy issue stage. By the time Scorcher was published Joe would be too busy illustrating two full colour pages an issue of Kid Chameleon for IPC's upcoming Cor!! weekly.
The daftest story in Scorcher has to be Kangaroo Kid. Even good artwork by John Stokes couldn't lift this silly tale of a boy who'd been raised by kangaroos and who becomes a great footballer because his leg muscles are over-developed due to him imitating the creatures who raised him... but the Tarzan knock-off is so absurd it's difficult to actually dislike it!
Paxton's Powerhouse was another strip drawn by John Stokes, - in issue 1 at any rate. By the second issue Barrie Mitchell had taken over so presumably Paxton was another strip produced months earlier for the dummy issue, with the original artist being unavailable once it got the green light. Again, wash work is wasted on the cheap newsprint, and it's a technique that IPC dropped after a few weeks.
Lags Eleven had artist Doug Maxted doing what he did best, - an adventure comedy serial. Here the character of Brilliant Genius is based on the criminal mastermind character that Peter Sellers played in the 1960 Ealing comedy Two Way Stretch.
At the back of the comic was a nice relevant item called Big Match Preview. Every week Scorcher would debate an upcoming match by looking back at how the same two teams fared against each other the last time they met.
The comic also featured several other strips but the one that really had legs was Billy's Boots. Editor Dave Hunt must have sensed this was something special as he awarded it the full colour centre spread.
With artwork by Mike Western on the first two issues, Billy's Boots was off to a great start. It's a story that appealed to many readers, from the boy who wants to be a professional footballer, to the less able kids who simply want to play better. Sure enough, Billy's Boots became such a great success that it continued for years after in Tiger... and beyond. But that's a story for another blog!
Scorcher was an enjoyable comic, even for people who hated football like me! It still has its fans today, but back in the 1970s there weren't enough to sustain it for very long. After 18 months it absorbed the ailing Score weekly and then Scorcher itself merged into Tiger in 1974. A four year run is good, but not spectacular. It seems that, with the single exception of Roy of the Rovers, comics with all-football themes don't exactly fill the stadium.