I know, like me, you’re a Stephen King fan, but Guy’s books are nothing like those. They get straight to the plot have little time for characterisation, usually the hero is a scientist or professor type who pulls a girl much younger than himself along the way. A lot of graphic violence intermixed with some frantic sex and that’s about it. But it’s not as simple as that, the books are well written, within the boundaries of pulp fiction, and it takes a professional author to keep things interesting and making you want to turn the page. Guy was a master of that sort of fiction and there is no one who can take his crown as the King of British pulp horror.
If anyone is thinking of trying one, then obviously Night Of The Crabs is his most famous book, but personally I would try and find a copy of Thirst, it’s probably his most expansive novel and closer to an early James Herbert style novel than his usual output.
I did read Night of the Crabs a long time ago…it was enjoyable enough 😀
I’m glad you liked that @Sir Miles I know your tastes are more in the Fleming/Deighton/le Carre mould, who are certainly not pulp authors, even though some snooty critics place Fleming in that category.
Oh I can read all sorts of rubbish too 🤔 I treat them as a ‘palate cleanser’ 🤣
I don’t tend to read ‘horror’ though…it’s not a genre that overly appeals…
Power Comics - Part One.
Power Comics was a range of 5 titles published by Odham’s which was a rival to the D C Thomson and Fleetway groups. These comics were Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific. They didn’t begin as Power Comics, that was an advertising gimmick that started later, so let’s go back to the beginning and trace the history of this seminal range of comics that ended in a disastrous fall.
Alf Wallace had been recruited from Fleetway who had had great success with their war library titles. In 1964 he managed to employ D C Thomson’s legendary artist Leo Baxendale for a salary of £8k per year (£135k in today’s money), a very sizeable amount. Baxendale was the artist on The Beano’s Bash Street Kids, Minnie The Minx and Little Plum. Baxendale was given full reign to produce a rival comic and Wham! was launched on 20 June 1964, complete with free gift, which was a staple ingredient in British comics upon launch - usually a free gift was supplied for the first 3 issues to get a readership flowing - more about free gifts in another article.
Baxendale used his new found power to create a more adult orientated comic with the use of unusual plots, surreal humour and appalling puns. The comic grew in readership and was so successful that another title was added on 5 February 1966 - Smash! (my personal favourite comic of all time). Copying it’s sister title it ran a whole range of stories including Leo Baxendale’s The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E., Bad Penny and Grimly Fiendish. The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E. would become the cover story where the spy is out into an impossible situation to escape a nefarious plot to kill him and readers had to determine how he would escape from the artwork provided. It was extremely popular. Bad Penny mimicked The Beano’s Minnie The Minx. Ken Reid, of Jonah fame in The Beano, came on board and his strip Queen Of The Seas which was a pastiche of Laurel & Hardy, drawn with consummate skill it unfortunately was too old for its target audience and was unfortunately dropped. Adventure strips included The Legend Testers (my favourite British adventure strip of all time), The Ghost Patrol and Brian Lewis’s Moon Madness.
Behind the scenes the editors were finalising a deal with Marvel Comics to reprint their popular superhero titles. Imported DC comics were readily available in British newsagents but Marvel had no such distribution deal, only a few “ballast” issues that entered the country and were undamaged. They had had a deal with Alan Class (see an earlier article) but Wallace outbid him and a new deal was struck. When the present licensing deal with Alan Class ended, Odham’s were allowed to print from Marvel’s titles. On 21 May 1966 in issue #16 of Smash! Jack Kirby’s Incredible Hulk began. Because of the larger page format of Smash!, panels were rearranged to fit. A whole 6 pages were dedicated to the strip, a quarter of the entire comic, pushing out 5 regular strips from previous issues. Suddenly it seemed as if a volcano had erupted. Sales went through the roof. When there was a problem one week with receiving the reprint material the editors hastily drew an original story featuring The Hulk which did not go down very well with Stan Lee. Smash!#38 remains a landmark issue. Harsh words were exchanged and promises made to never do this again. On 6 August that year the Fantastic Four debuted in the pages of Wham! to similar success. When they finally had reprinted the final issue of The Hulk they moved onto The Avengers with equal success.
The superhero craze in Britain had caught on with the broadcasting of the Batman TV series and with issue #20 Batman was launched onto the front cover of Smash! Not the DC stories as a deal couldn’t be reached, but with the syndicated newspaper strip which was in scores of American newspapers. Again, this helped Smash! to become a huge success. Batman would hold the front cover for 94 issues until the TV series was less popular when it was moved to inside pages.
On 3 December the Power Comics logo was first used in issue #44 and the legend of these titles was born (see top left of cover).
With these two titles such a roaring success the editors were pressurised into launching a third title, so on 21 January 1967 Pow! became the third comic incorporating Marvel strips alongside more traditional British strips. Henceforth Spider-Man and Nick Fury entered the fray along with Ken Reid’s Dare-A-Day-Davy amongst others. Also the first issue included a free gift Spider-matic gun.
The powers that be at Odham’s were ecstatic at the sales and just a scant 3 weeks after Pow!’s launch they published Fantastic. Now this was entirely different from the three present titles as this was reprinting mainly just Marvel titles, namely Thor, Iron Man and The X-Men. It resembled the Marvel UK weeklies that would appear in the next decade. A British superhero strip was also there called Missing Link, once again, Odham’s provoked the ire of their master’s, Marvel, as The Missing Link was clearly based on The Hulk’s appearance but with the huge licensing fees being paid to Marvel it helped smooth things over and Missing Link evolved into Johnny Future, superhero.
Pow! and Fantastic continued the high sales trend, so the Odham’s bigwigs thought that more of the same would be a good thing.
To be continued…
Thanks, CHB, these comics were very much my thing when I was just a lad and it's good to find out the background.
thanks for more info on these British comic books CoolHand
do you have any examples of these fakeHulk stories? thosed be cool to see
this attempt to continue an American series that had already ended reminds me of MarvelMan, which I do know a little about. American publisher Fawcett's 1940s character Captain Marvel (no relation to Marvel comics) was the most popular superhero of the era, and was reprinted in the UK. When Fawcett went out of business in the mid50s, the British publishers just replaced the Captain Marvel reprints with an almost identical character called MarvelMan, who lasted another decade. MarvelMan was written and drawn by UK cartoonist Mick Anglo. The reason I know about MarvelMan is the character was revived by Alan Moore in the late 1970s, in an extreme postmodern deconstructed form, then when that series was reprinted in the US it was renamed MiracleMan
I imagine in the early60s Power Comics mightve thought they couldve done the same thing with a character Marvel had stopped publishing. At that point Marvel were themselves very close to going out of business, not the juggernaut that dominates all entertainment we know today, and that s one reason the original American Hulk comic was cancelled after only 6 issues. But Marvel owner Martin Goodman was legally savvy, especially with trademarks, and would have been quick to put a stop to such things. I'd think it was Goodman whod threatened Power Comics, not Stan Lee, who was an employee at the time.
I hope CHB doesn't mind, and I'm sure he could do a much better job, but here's a brief look at the fake Hulk character -
@caractacus potts and @Barbel thank you both for your contributions, it’s great to have responses to these articles, the more the merrier.
This is the cover to Smash! #38 which had the “rogue’ Hulk story…
…and the first three pages…
I used to own the entire set of Smash! comics - including free gifts - I sold it to a very dedicated collector before I moved over here - it’s another thing that I now wish I hadn’t done!
Power Comics - Part Two
With Fantastic continuing the huge success of the Power Comic range, a fifth was added on 8 April 1967 called Terrific. The contents were dominated by Marvel reprints of The Avengers, Sub-Mariner and Doctor Strange.
So, things were going really well, but a perfect storm was brewing and the Power Comic house was going to collapse in spectacular fashion.
Three separate storms were converging into each other simultaneously and as each one met, the stronger the storm raged.
Storm 1. The emergence of ITV into homes up and down the UK marked the end of the BBC dominance, instead of dull children’s programmes based on classic novels producers like Gerry Anderson were showcasing series such as Stingray and Thunderbirds. Television rental shops were springing up everywhere and suddenly everyone was able to afford to have a television sat in their front room. Instead of reading about these adventures, kids were able to see them, and sales of comics declined during the 60’s.
Storm 2. There was a financial crisis in 1967 (history does repeat itself), and Harold Wilson’s Labour government disastrously decided that the answer to the problem was to devalue the British pound in November, sending the USD exchange rate tumbling from 2.80 to 2.40 to the pound. There followed a crisis for the USD in March 1968 which had a tumbling effect on the Franc and the Mark, which were also devalued.
Storm 3. Odhams deal with Marvel did not exclude them from entering the UK market themselves. Whereas DC had always had a big exposure in newsagents Marvel did not have such a deal in the UK. Marvel’s Martin Goodman made a deal that freed them from a restrictive distribution agreement and soon Marvel quadrupled their monthly output and thousands of comics were heading into the UK’s newsagents, all in four-colour, whereas the Power Comics were in black and white.
Odhams licensing fees had to be paid in dollars. The repeated falls in the value of the pound against the dollar made the payments significantly difficult to maintain. Increasing the cover price was already a no-no situation, Fantastic and Terrific were already at 9d per issue, three times the price of DC Thomson’s perennial favourites Beano and Dandy which were 3d each. Launching so many titles backfired on the directors and with families pulling in the purse strings children could not afford to buy the entire range. With the other three priced at 7d each to buy all five would cost a mighty 39d or 3s/3d per week.
Something had to give and sales declined to the point where the dreaded phrase “Great News For All Readers” would emblazon on the covers or inner pages. British comic collectors were used to this phrase in their comics - publishers had a bottom line of profit and if it came close to that line then a merger would happen where two comics would become one - with the most popular strips of the merging comic being transported into the parent comic where their least popular strips would make way for them. It was a pretty good business plan to be fair, with buyers of the cancelled comic then buying the new comic to continue reading their favourite strips.
Odhams were publishing other titles as well during his period, including Buster, Valiant and Lion, all traditional boys adventure/comedy comics. The directors found that they were competing against themselves in many circumstances and the decision was made to start merging the Power Comic range.
The first merger was Wham! which was absorbed into the higher selling Pow! after 187 issues…
And just 3 weeks later the newest of them all, Terrific, merged into Fantastic after only 43 issues…
Then on 7 September 1968 Pow! merged into the biggest selling comic Smash! and a few scant weeks later Fantastic also merged into Smash! which heralded the long famous masthead Smash! with Pow! incorporating Fantastic.
Odham’s tried unsuccessfully to terminate their licensing agreement with Marvel as it was unaffordable, even with reducing the 5 comic range back down to 1. Using some British company legalities they transferred ownership within the group to another subsidiary and Marvel reprints were no longer within the pages of Smash!
Smash! continued in its own right up to April 1971 where it was then absorbed into sister title Valiant after a good run of 257 issues - but it was never the same after the Marvel reprints ended.
There were Summer Specials and Annuals under these titles, as well, but I’m not going to cover these here - I have plans for articles on these at a later date.
In conclusion, it was the entry point for many British kids into the Marvel universe and the legacy of these five brilliant titles remains to the present day with high prices realised for issues on the second-hand market and auction sites. As I wrote earlier, Smash! is my favourite comic and happy memories abound when recalling them - which is what nostalgia is all about.
Thanks for stirring those memories up, CHB. Yes, that was a weird title - "Smash and Pow incorporating Fantastic". If they could have figured out a way to include the other two as t I'm sure they would have.
Also thanks for explaining how that whole range came to an end. Very interesting for those small boys who faithfully bought their copy or copies every week.
Born in 1922 James Moffat was a Canadian pulp writer who had hundreds of westerns and crime stories published in pulp magazines during the 50’s and 60’s. Moving to England in the mid-60’s he was hacking out many cheap paperbacks under many pen names. In 1970 NEL (New English Library) came calling and he published the horror paperback Satan’s Slaves under the name James Taylor. This was clearly based on the Charles Manson murders.
When NEL began looking for an author to write a book about the skinhead revolution that was sweeping the country at that time, a fifty year old was probably not what they were looking for, but he knocked off a novel in under a week and passed it to the editors. It was duly published under the title Skinhead and name of Richard Allen.
The story is about 16-year old skinhead thug Joe Hawkins who works as a coal deliveryman who hates his parents and leads a small gang of similar youths on a rampage of violence against society. Sex is plentiful whether it be a knee trembler with the older barmaid at the pub or a 14-year old schoolgirl who is his girlfriend of sorts, or during battles with hippies where rape is on the menu. The book was a sensation. It passed the million copy mark very quickly and was on its 10th printing within 2 years. Suddenly, NEL had found an untapped source of income and Moffat/Allen churned out book after book about society’s misfits including sequels to Skinhead - Suedehead, Skinhead Escapes and Trouble For Skinhead. Other books he wrote were about the blossoming football gangs (Terrace Terrors, Boot Boys), girl gangs (Skinhead Girls, Sorts) amongst others. As with all things the formula was becoming stale and in 1974 Moffat wrote Skinhead Farewell which saw Hawkins die at the end in a plane crash.
Moffat then turned his hand to the music industry with Glam, Teeny Bopper Idol and Punk Rock. His work with NEL ended with him going back to youth culture with Mod Rule, inspired by the movie Quadrophenia, this featured the son of Joe Hawkins, the result of one of his frequent rape victims from an earlier novel. Moffat was pushing 60 by this time and heavy drinking and smoking had taken its toll on his health and his writing had diminished in its power and it lacked pace. The book did not make it to a second printing and publishing being a case of “you’re only as good as your last book sales” it was the end for Moffat and NEL. Moffat had a renaissance in the early 1990’s where his books were reprinted in omnibus form and he was offered a new deal to continue the Joe Hawkins saga with Hawkins having survived the plane crash. But it was not to be as Moffat finally succumbed to his health problems and passed away in 1993.
Moffat used the books to spin his own rhetoric which was right-wing populism. He railed against trade unions, welfare spongers and the liberal left. The books are misogynistic, women often are seen as enjoying being raped. Unashamed racism litters the narrative with repugnant viewpoints of the anti-hero Joe Hawkins and assorted companions. Moffat often denied having any sympathy for his characters but it is difficult to see past his denials - it’s a bit like Johnny Speight’s Till Death Us Do Part comedy series where racist antagonist Alf Garnett was deemed to be the one people were laughing against when we all knew that it was for those who agreed with his views. For all the bad things about his writing, his sensational descriptions of sex and violence were pure pulp excellence. The themes of defiance of authority struck a chord with youngsters of the day, it was wishful thinking for most readers that they could escape the boredom of their own lives and have the thrill of freedom to do anything they wanted.
During the 70’s Moffat/Allen sold several millions of books - indeed I sold many thousands myself over the years - I remember Woolworth’s bulk selling remaindered copies by the hundreds and I spent a few days going to all their branches in the London/Outer London area buying up every single copy I could - the checkout girls sometimes were amazed at me purchasing sometimes over a hundred books in one go - I got a date with one of them as well!
I cannot recommended the content of these books, but I can recommend the pulp writing, and if anyone wants to try one then Skinhead is the one to read, available on Kindle or if you have deep pockets then be prepared to pay a lot.
Once again I remember these filling the shelves. They didn't interest me at all, and I never read any, but it's good to hear the background story.
If I recall correctly, they had their imitators or copycats too although I can't remember the titles.
Yes, other publishers raced to get their own versions out, off the top of my head there was Agro from Mayflower and Soccer Thug from Sphere amongst many others. NEL published many others too with other authors, including Hell’s Angels books etc.
American Pulp Men’s Adventure Magazines - Part One:
The postwar era began a new age in pulp magazines - men’s adventure magazines. The returning soldiers and blue collar workers were turning their attention to the lurid stories and accompanying sensational artwork for their entertainment. Discriminatory descriptions of foreigners and scantily dressed damsels in distress, saved by heroic white men, were the order of the day. Many stories were earmarked as “true”, I’m sure many readers believed that was so. Subjects were varied but popular themes were revenge, prison breakouts, men against nature and most popular of all, torture stories perpetrated by Nazi’s, Japanese and communists. The Nazi torture covers are the most highly prized issues sought after today, most issues fetch at least £100 each and sometimes a lot more. Seeing these were sold on newsstands in full public view it seems incredible in this day and age that it could have actually happened. What is undeniable is that the artwork was extraordinarily good. As long as sales were big then the publishers turned a blind eye to the content. Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company was the leader in exploitation titles and as pre-Godfather author Mario Puzo (who earned an excellent living selling pulp stories) was quoted as saying - “Vietnam is not on the cards but WW2 was fun, totally exploitable”. And these sensational stories were interspersed with articles about “true-life” sexy co-ed’s, unfaithful wives, forbidden sex, and the like.
Men against nature was a popular trope and the enemy ranged from gorilla’s, baboons, sharks, giant lizards and in fact virtually every dangerous species you could imagine. Creatures would appear from nowhere, unleashing devastating violence in mass attacks.
American exotica was another popular trope. Jungle adventures with pre-Indiana Jones heroes rescuing scantily clad women from savages, perpetrated the superiority of the white man to an ever increasing circulation. Dozens of magazines selling between 100,000-500,000 copies per title were flooding the streets and readers couldn’t get enough of the buzzing mosquitoes, buxom maidens and the slaughter of cannibals.
In part two we continue with more tropes, beginning with WW2.
It was during the Korean War (1950-1953) that men's adventure magazines found a mass market for WW2 stories. The Korean War was rarely featured but WW2, where memories were a few years in the past, were game for exploitation and good and evil from that time was more easily understood. Editors in search of new material ordered their writers and artists to come up with more and more lurid tales as each issue had to surpass the previous one in terms of salacious content.
Depending on your point of view, the men's adventure genre either fell into the gutter or hit the pinnacle of pulp success in the early '60s when over a dozen magazines started offering covers showing sexy women being bound and tortured. Sexual perversions are suggested in these magazines with headlines like "Slaves of the Emperor of Agony” and "Savage Rites of the Whip", but the stories themselves mainly lack any detail. But the violence is boundless, both in text and illustration with women being tortured in ever increasing sordid ways. Maybe not so oddly, the women being tortured were always sexy, with facial expressions that belied their predicament. Editors decided to not make the tortures seem too real, to avoid removal of the magazines from newsstands, but even so they are shocking illustrations, not in the skill of the artists, but in the content. The ones illustrated below are some of the milder covers…
But a new war was being fought. Men’s adventure magazines increased their circulation during the height of those scary days known as the Cold War. The Cold War started after the powers divided postwar spoils and Russia hid behind the Iron Curtain, and the USA expanded its economic control with the support of dictator appointees in the Third World.
It was a time of massive military buildup and state secrecy sponsored by the KGB and CIA, the Cold War was a time of Joseph McCarthy, atomic bomb tests, paranoia, state assassination and cover-up. WW3 was avoided but “proxy” wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan were fought instead.
The Cuban issue was a hot topic. Castro replaced the Nazi’s and Japanese with his own variety of sadistic torture of white American women. Cover illustrations sometimes portrayed the missiles that readers had seen in newsreels during the crisis. If anything, the men’s adventure magazines made the apocalyptic reality seem a little less daunting.
The Cold War produced James Bond, the secret agent whose mission was to detect an enemy far more obscure than the Nazis of decades past. The Cold War was fought by minds, not by war, and the public lapped up the superspies who protected us from the axis of evil.
Sales of men’s adventure magazines started to decline drastically when, as Mario Puzo put it, the “non-fun” Vietnam War was seen every evening on television, complete with dull jungle footage and droning fatality counts. Editors tried a number of ways to regain interest. Biker gangs, hippy killers, and juvenile delinquents we’re all given a go in the late '60s and early '70s. But the population no longer felt the need to purchase an exaggerated portrayal of the morning headlines on their television sets so one by one the magazines fell by the wayside with the remaining handful turning into cheap porno mags.
So that’s a brief history of an era of pulp magazines that influenced millions of readers. All these magazines are highly collectible nowadays, I could never have enough of these, they were literally snapped up instantly when they came into stock. It’s the old adage of sex sells, but sex and violence sells even better.