Sunday, April 15, 2012

Variations on a small theme


  
When The Numskulls debuted in The Beezer in 1962 few could have suspected that it would inspire so many variations on its theme. The concept of microscopic sentient beings living inside our bodies and controlling our thoughts and deeds seems to fascinate comic readers. (Example above is from The Beezer No.595, June 10th 1967, drawn by Malcolm Judge.)

Two years after The Numskulls appeared, rival comic Wham! arrived with George's Germs in issue No.1 by Leo Baxendale. Other artists also drew the strip, such as this example from Wham! No.17 (10th October 1964). I'm afraid I've forgotten the name of the artist of this one but he was quite prolific at Odhams.




The comedy in George's Germs was far grubbier and more brutal than The Beezer's Numskulls. (See the "nasty, grimy little smut germs" above for example.) Like the strip that inspired it, George's Germs also proved to be very popular. In 1966, when Wham's companion comic Smash! was launched it was only natural that a similar strip would appear in its pages. Thus came The Nervs, again, originally by Leo Baxendale but soon illustrated by other artists, most often by Graham Allen, who drew this example from Smash! No.14, 7th May 1966...





The Nervs was later taken over by Ken Reid who took the strip to greater heights of lunacy and gross comedy. Here's ken's very first episode from the first combined issue of Smash! and Pow! (No.137) dated 14th September 1968...




The early issues of Smash! also featured The Tellybugs drawn by George Parlett. (This example from Smash! No.14, 7th May 1966.) This time it was a TV set rather than a human body which played host to the tiny creatures. This strip fascinated me so much as a child that I cut out the figure on the extreme left of the title banner, stuck it to card with a base, and would place it in various positions next to our television.


For me, the weirdest strip of this type was Nobby's Night Mares which appeared in the early issues of Pow! (This example below is from issue 9, 18th March 1967.) Nobby suffers from narcolepsy (although it's never actually specified as such in the strip) and while he's asleep the Night Mare creatures inside his body put on horrifying stage plays that transfer into nightmares in Nobby's mind. Strange stuff, but this is the sort of creative dark comedy that made Odhams' comics so different (and often funnier) from those produced by DC Thomson or Fleetway at the time. An ex-IPC staffer once told me that when IPC took over the Odhams comics they sent a memo to editors telling them never to reprint The Nervs as they found it too disturbing - and they never did.



Today, the variations on the theme continue. The Numskulls is still going strong, now in The Beano and drawn by Barry Glennard...


...recently, reprints of The Beano's The Germs (considerably inspired by George's Germs) have also begun to appear, drawn by Dave Sutherland...


...and in The Dandy, Nigel Auchterlounie's The Bogies continues to run every week. (The first series of The Bogies appeared in rival comic Toxic but as it's a licensed strip it was able to jump ship to The Dandy.)

14 comments:

Peter Gray said...

Sparky comic also did a telly little men drawn by Les Barton..I also love this concept a lot...

Will we see a movie of The Numbskulls one day as it would be a good idea..

Lew Stringer said...

Ah yes, 'Ma Kelly's Telly', an almost identical swipe of The Tellybugs. I might add a page of that when I have time.

I was never a big fan of The Numskulls, although it was good to draw one of the strips for the Fun-Size Beano. The Odhams strips appealed to me far more.

Peter Gray said...

I hope you don't mind Lew..I've thought of another one...I love the nightmare strip you put up a new one for me very clever...it reminded me of Barney's Brain Box from the early days of Cor!! comic..

Lew Stringer said...

Good thinking Peter. I knew there must be more strips along those lines but I'd forgotten about the Cor!! one.

Robert said...

Interesting to see that the original Numskulls' host was an adult male, whilst it's not a boy - I guess there's the worry that readers won't empathise with an adult character.

The Tellybugs seems an inspired idea to put in a kids' comic as, if other children were anything like me, they grew up wondering what was going on behind the screen - that little creatures were making everything happen would have made more sense that the mundane reality.

James Spiring said...

Peter, there kind of already is a movie. Meet Dave, 2008, stars Eddie Murphy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meet_Dave

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (and Kev F the comic artist) said...

Excellent blog Lew. I had fun giving the Bash Street Kids their own Numskulls in the Beano annual 2008 (Cuthbert had small cybermen in his brain, I seem to recall), and I've even plotted a screenplay with a variation on the theme. I was ready to script it when Doctor Who beat me to the punch - you didn't mention the Teselecta (is that what it was called) from Dr Who series 6.

- Kev F

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Kev. I didn't want to digress into variations on The Numskulls, or similar TV/movie versions but they're worth mentioning in this comment section.

Matty B said...

The last segment of the Woody Allen movie "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)" always reminded me of The Numbskulls!

Manic Man said...

Myself.. i don't remember any such creatures in Doctor Who series 6..
And I'm pretty sure I've seen all of what survives of the stories..
I guess "The Mind Robbers" comes close but that wasn't inside anyone so.. doesn't really count..

An interesting question would be, not if we count TV shows like 'Once upon a time...', which was a good show teaching people stuff, the series 'Once upon a time... Life' was set inside the human body and even had a UK spin-off mag were you build up a model of the human body, but if we count creatures inside a TV, do we count all such beings and where do we stop? Stories of having someone shrunk and entering someone else's head isn't uncommon.. I remember a Toy range in the early 90s, like the normal 'pocket toy' which had a base and some figures, it was different parts of the human body, with 'soldiers' that protect that part. I had the Brain... Can't remember much more then that..

For some reason, While 'Macro' or growth is a common super power seen as wish fulfilment for kids, Micro or Shrinking, seams to also be there but I'm not sure of the reason.. I can see why kids wish to tower about things, No big adults in charge cause they are bigger etc, but shrinking is a different matter.. Though i wonder if it's kinda a way for Kids to blame something.. "Oh, i didn't do it! The little people inside my head did it".. interesting thought..

Lew Stringer said...

Manic, Kev's talking about the new series. Season 6 (last year) had robots controlled by little people in their heads if you remember?

Andy J said...

Great post Lew. I've had that original art for the 2nd page of The Nerv's story for years but never seen the first. By complete chance that's the very one you've picked. Finally I can read what happened on page 1! :)

Manic Man said...

Ah, sorry.. I don't watch the new series apart from the odd bit when someone else has it on.. I saw some of it and.. It's probebly cause of the way TV has changed, but it wasn't the Doctor Who i was interested in. That's the problem with Remakes.. keeping the same title can make things tricky ^_^

Sorry about that. Oh, a bit different, but if we include tiny aliens in robots.. What about all these 'atom sized' universes? Micronauts and the Shanazar STC storyline come to mind, but really, isn't that a completely different thing?

Lew Stringer said...

Hey Andy, you have Ken's first Nervs strip, I have his last. Let's hope the ones in between also went to good homes. (Although I fear they were incinerated along with hundreds of other pages years ago.)

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