Monday, May 15, 2017

The Power of WHAM!

When Odhams invited Leo Baxendale to create a comic for them in 1964 he envisioned it as a "Super-Beano" (to use his words). After all, the intention was to rival D.C. Thomson's popular weekly so Leo wanted to use the Beano's best talent in the new venture. As it turned out, neither Davy Law or Paddy Brennan were able to commit to it, but Ken Reid was (although his Frankie Stein strip wouldn't begin until issue 4). The resulting comic, Wham!, wasn't quite the "Super-Beano" Leo had hoped for but, for many of us who read it, it was just as good, if not better, than The Beano was at that point anyway. 

For the early issues of Wham!, it was left to Leo Baxendale to create most of the characters and strips himself. This was quite a task, and it wasn't long before other artists (mostly from an art agency) were brought in to lighten the load and take over some strips. The earliest issue of Wham! that I have is issue No.2, dated 27th June 1964 (published Monday 22nd June) so let's take a look at some of Leo's work in that issue...

The cover shown at the top of this post conveys the impact of the comic's title perfectly. Wham! - this was something different and it demanded your attention to let you know that. Bear in mind that most humour comics of the time used strips on the cover, so a big, bold illustration like this must have been very eye-catching. 

Inside, General Nitt and his Barmy Army kicked off the comic. Historical fiction was very prominent at the time on TV and in comics, so this parody was perfectly suited. I have a feeling the dragon may have been redrawn though, as the style looks different to the rest of the strip. 

The Tiddlers was Wham's answer to The Bash Street Kids, but the twist here was that the teacher (Super Sir) was an ally of the naughty kids. (Super Sir was later replaced by a more traditional teacher who clashed with the Tiddlers.) The large panel of the Head gnashing his cane is a good example of one of the things that made Wham! so different. Humour strips of the time usually stuck to a formula tier of panels. That big picture had Wham!-appeal. 

Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy was Leo's best remembered strip in Wham! A wonderful comedy-serial, spoofing the spy trend of the time. It's mostly remembered though for its chief villain, - Grimly Feendish, - who became more popular than Eagle-Eye and later gained his own strip in Smash! in 1966. In the seventies, The Damned even wrote a song about him!

Again, Leo uses a big panel for impact, although I suspect it was also to save time as he had 13 pages to draw for this issue! Either way, it gave the page a powerful look.

Biff would become the comic's cover strip with issue 5. A simple story, but it "breaks the fourth wall" as they say, which was quite unusual in comics of the time. 
The Pest of the West would swiftly be taken over by other artists (notably Brian Lewis) and this page looks somewhat rushed but it conveys the slapstick gags well. Even when done in a hurry, Leo's work was still funny.
Finally, Georgie's Germs was Wham's answer to The Beezer's Numskulls, but far more urban and revolting than Thomson's strip was then. Just look what a mucky kid Georgie is. No wonder he suffered from one ailment to the next every week for the next four years. 


Wham! may not have been the slickest comic on the stands in 1964 (particularly after Leo cut back his workload) but it definitely seemed to be the funniest. It had a reckless cheekiness about it that was very engaging, and the fact the comic is still so well remembered today proves that although it wasn't a Super-Beano it was brilliant in its own right and was still a super comic for many of us, thanks to the power of Leo Baxendale and his fellow contributors!

12 comments:

Davy Francis said...

Wham! was a big favourite of mine,along with the other titles,Smash and Pow! Leo Baxendale had a a great sense of humour,and his art was superb.

Manic Man said...

great work.
and yep.. there is no way that dragon is original.. different style, thicker inking, and look how faded some of the lines around him look... Dragon's design doesn't even seam to stick.. hair in the first two panels, which go for the rest..
Did, for some reason, an editor think it needed to be redone but did it himself or an office boy? it's not amazingly BAD art but it just doesn't match the style at all.. one thing that was a bit interesting about Mr Baxendale's work was with simple lines, often with great rubbery movements, the characters would be on model and be the characters.

That dragon looks.. off.

Lew Stringer said...

The style of the dragon looks more like Bob Dewar's work than Leo's. Very strange. Ah well, it's all good stuff anyway.

They were truly funny comics, Davy. Leo didn't work for Pow! but it I agree it was still a good comic.

Phil Rushton said...

I was lucky enough to buy Wham! #1 when it came out and you're right that the cover had an enormous impact on me: in some ways the comic reminded me of a Beano Annual rather than the more compressed style of DC Thomson's weekly comics. I see what you mean about the dragon and wouldn't be at all surprised if Leo asked a friend to draw it for him (maybe a moonlighting Bob Dewar), as he seemed to do something similar on a number of occasions when a script called for subjects that were slightly outside his comfort zone - particularly sexy girls or realistic caricatures. Incidentally one thing that's always interested me about the agency artists you mention is that the handful of Wham! and Smash! file copies I own frequently attribute artwork to something called the 'Kingleo Studio', making me wonder if Leo himself set up his own agency for a time.

Lew Stringer said...

Not as far as I know. While he was working for Fleetway on Lion etc he was "moonlighting" for Odhams by working with Mike Brown. (I think Mike inked Leo's layouts, then Mike did his own stuff later.) I don't think it went as far as setting up a studio though as there's no mention of it in his biography.

Nutty Big D said...

I wonder why they very quickly changed the WHAM! logo's exclamation make from the rectangular to the pointed

Lew Stringer said...

Perhaps it was just down to the art editor realising the pointed one looked more distinctive?

John Pitt said...

I would have had this issue at the time, so it's nice to see some of the strips again. At our school, we were all fond of The Wacks, as we were in the grip of Beatle/Mersey-Mania!

Lew Stringer said...

I didn't show The Wacks this time as it wasn't a Baxendale strip but I enjoyed that page too. Wham! always felt very in tune with the sixties.

Robert Carnegie said...

Speculation about "Kingleo Studio" - I think I remember X-Men artist John Byrne describing some early art credits to "Byrne Robotics" as where he was helped by one or more other artists, informally (which doesn't exclude splitting the fee; I don't know about that). I can't easily check this because "Byrne Robotics" is currently the title of his web site, or someone's site about him, and I haven't found a history of the title provided. Also he has often drawn robots, but, who hasn't? (Maybe John Stokes... nope, I see he went on from "Marney the Fox" to work on Doctor Who and Star Wars material, if Wikipedia speaks true. Droids a-plenty, then.)

Ocadpete said...

Who was it who did the "Doll's of St Dominics" strip for Pow! Lew? I've read in a number of places (including Wikipedia's entry on Pow!) that it was by Leo Baxendale, but also that he did no work for Pow!

Its a little like his style but not as free flowing and wild.

Lew Stringer said...

The Dolls of St Dominics was drawn by Ron Spencer, one of many who imitated Leo's style.

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