Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Post: The Topper 1976

And so Christmas continues....

Presenting: The Topper, dated December 25th 1976:
 Wait, where's the rest of it?

Oh yeah, The Topper, like The Beezer and few other comics was published in the tabloid format until 1980, i.e. about twice the size of the other comics, folded in the middle. Which means it's going to be a pain fitting it in my scanner.

The part of the cover you can't see has the first part of the cover star's adventure which ends with this promise:
 Hooray! I can't wait for some more tranny fun!

What? No! We've been through this! Danny's Tranny was a strip about a boy with a magic transistor radio!
 The LW button made things larger, SW made things smaller, MW, er, made things float and VHF made things invisible. It's probably best not to ask.

Anyway, The Topper was DC Thomson's third or fourth best loved humour title (depending on how you feel about The Beezer) and ran from 1953 to 1990 (when it was renamed "Topper '90" because the '90s felt "cool" and "now") before being transformed into "Beezer and Topper" which limped along until 1993.

If you have any memory of The Topper try to remember any of the strips you read in it. Chances are however many you remember half of them were Beezer strips. Neither of them had an identity of their own the way The Beano or Sparky seemed to.

Probably the best remembered character, however is Beryl the Peril, pictured here sticking a pipe in her dad's ear:

 I love Dad's expression here. It says "Welp, I guess this is a thing that's happening now, another day as the parent of a DC Thomson scamp, no point fighting it."

Beryl was the creation of Davy Law and is pretty much the Rule 63 Dennis the Menace, created by Law just two years earlier. She survived several creative teams over the decades, occasionally appearing in The Dandy right up to the end. I like Beryl a lot.

The problem is when it comes to describing most Topper (or Beezer) characters. There seem to be very few "high concepts" and a large amount of strips can be summed up as "a kid gets into scrapes".

Or, in the case of Tiny ("The World's Biggest Dog" - actually much smaller than Digby or Clifford) "a terrifying man-shaped dog gets into scrapes".
Actually, that picture is misleading, Tiny is in the foreground here, he's not Godzilla-sized. Perspective trouble.
 This issue has a few strips I've never seen before, like Quiz Kid, in which a Potter-ish boy wanders his home town (like Cheeky) encountering people for one-panel jokes and then posing a quiz question (answers at the bottom of the page).
 I'm quite fond of Fred the Flop, an habitual criminal, constantly on the rob and clumsily failing to steal anything. And yet his mental illness compels him to continue with no help from society. It seems in this issue's story Fred is delighted to be caught and imprisoned over the holidays. The reason...
 Prison today is like a holiday camp etc, etc.

Also, that last speech balloon is not a play on "smash n grab" which seems like a missed opportunity.

New to me is Nobby, a kid who gets into scrapes.
 He looks very much like a blond version of The Beezer's Ginger, who was in turn an anglicised Oor Wullie. I'm willing to bet Nobby was, like the other two, an original creation of Dudley Watkins.
 One of the true comics greats, however, is the detective parody Send for Kelly and His Assistant Cedric by George Martin (not the record producer).
 Nick Kelly, special agent, was created in 1961 and appeared in various forms up to the mid 90s and had some gleefully weird plots. Viddy the "story so far" blurb from this issue:
 Merry Christmas Nick! Merry Christmas Cedric!
 Next up is an odd strip called Tiny Tim (no relation to Tiny as above) about a kid who gets into scrapes in amongst the land of insects. Because he really is tiny. I say it's odd because the art style and the lettering makes me sure this strip came from the 1940s or earlier. It must be reprint strip and looks like the same art as The Dandy's Freddy the Fearless Fly. I can't find any information on it so if you know anything, let me know in the comments.
 Then we have mediocre adventure strip The Mysterious Monty Mercury about a boy who is "assisting in a secret rocket research programme" and at this point is attempting to escape kidnappers. I only mention it because of the weird stylised artwork which reminds me of modern American cartoons like Teen Titans Go! or Monster High. It's surprising and interesting.
 The other true highlight of this issue is Jimmy Jinx and What He Thinks, another kid who gets into scrapes only this time he has two warring hallucinations for a conscience; an angel (who calls him James) and a devil (who calls him Jim). Typically Jimmy is wondering whether to pull a prank and his invisible friends argue for or against.

Originally published in Buzz (1973-5) before The Topper consumed it, Jimmy was created by Ken Harrison and stuck around till 1989.

In this story Jimmy pulls some pranks using an anchor(!) which ends with him saving Christmas by strangling a horse.
 Slap up feasts all round!
 Wait, they eat?

Also, inexplicably long-running character Mickey the Monkey (also created by Dudley Watkins) was there. And, as I've said before, he's not a monkey, he's an ape. An ape that gets into scrapes.
 And I'm not explaining that panel.

Tricky Dicky (a kid who gets into scrapes with increasingly elaborate joke shop props) is the last surviving Topper character (he lives on in the Beano albeit looking quite different) and is still quite a fun strip.
 But my favourite strip of this era is Ghastly Manor, an idea that feels like it wandered over to DC Thomson from Monster Fun by mistake.
 Not unlike Harry's Haunted House (from Whizzer and Chips), the titular mansion has been on the market for a long time and the owner, Mr Fear, cannot sell it because of guh-guh-guh-ghosts! In this case there's loads of them "living" there and in spite of the owner's best efforts to hide them when potential buyers come round it always goes wrong.

In this seasonally atypical story Mr Fear ends up feeling sorry for the undead horrors and throws them a slap-up Christmas party!
I'll leave you with that image of an unchewed whole cake sitting in a ghost's see-through stomach.

Merry Christmas!

(Caesar and Boudicca never met and, according to Quiz Kid, there were no turkeys "in those times". This doesn't sound right to me but who am I?)

1 comment:

  1. There were no turkeys in Britain in those times, because Pocahontas hadn't invented them