First Published:
23 September 2010

Garry Fraser Interview - Part One

Garry Frasr Interview - Part Two

More comic creator interviews on downthetubes


Garry Fraser, DC Thomson editordownthetubes Eyes Only:
Debriefing a Cold War Spy

Part One

DC Thomson's monthly humour reprint magazine Classics From The Comics has been running for more than 14 years but, sadly, has just been sent to the great newsagents in the sky.

Jeremy Briggs talked to Classics editor Garry Fraser about the magazine as well as the rest of his career at DC Thomson which has included titles as diverse as Cracker, Warlord, Nutty and Football Picture Story Monthly.

Garry also chose to break his silence on his comics alter-ego and gave downthetubes the background on an agent very familiar to readers of Bullet comic in the 1970s...

Buzz Comic #52BUZZ & CRACKER

downthetubes: Garry, your most recent work has been on Classics From The Comics and this actually harks back to your first jobs with DC Thomson.

Can you tell us when and how you joined Thomson's and what were the first titles that you worked on?

Garry Fraser: I joined Thomson's in November 1974 after working full time with Halfords when I left school. I had originally wanted to study music at University but didn't get the grades. I saw an ad looking for comic editorial staff and the rest, as they say, is history!

My interview lasted three days and the last thing I had to do was tell managing editor George Mooney a joke. He laughed and that was my career off and running. The following Monday I was in the Buzz office, with Editor Roy Patterson giving me the sort of friendly welcome I needed as I was very, very green!

downthetubes: What prepared you to write humour comic strips - did you read the humour titles as a child?

Garry: Nothing really prepared me, apart from having a sense of humour that seemed to fit! By the time I arrived Buzz was on its last legs prior to Cracker. I didn't script anything for Buzz.

My comic reading when I was a boy consisted of Beano, Dandy, Hornet and Hotspur and (whisper it) Whizzer and Chips and Buster!

Cracker 22downthetubes: Buzz was a Topper/Beezer -style tabloid that was published from January 1973 to January 1975 while Cracker was a Beano/Dandy size comic that ran from January 1975 to September 1976. From the editorial side of things, what was the difference in the comics? Were they aimed at different markets or was Cracker a straight replacement for Buzz?

Garry: Cracker and Buzz were more or less the same content-wise, but Cracker's 'Sammy Special Report' was different as was the inclusion of 'Iron Hand', Paddy Brennan's James Bond-type hero.

That was when my first-ever script was printed, a 'Hector The Collector' story. I was as proud as punch!

Hector the Collector by Garry Fraser
An episode of Hector the Collector

downthetubes: At that time Thomson's were publishing about six humour titles a week. How much cross over was there in editorial staff, writers and artists?

Garry: In these days, the staff stayed more or less the same but there was a cross over in artists. Guys like Dave Sutherland and Jim Petrie were exclusive to Beano, (Jim did 'Sparky People' as well though) but artists like Gordon Bell would contribute to most comics. Gordon was the man behind 'Scoopy' in Nutty, 'Pup Parade' in Beano, 'Billy the Kid' and 'Fiends Beans' in Cracker. Some staff stayed with the same comic for years and years.


downthetubes: After Buzz and Cracker you moved over into the boy's adventure titles. How did this move come about and what was the biggest difference you found between the humour and adventure titles?

Garry: I don't know, to be honest. I was told I was moving and that was that. The difference was huge between fun and adventure but I adapted pretty quickly, I reckon, and enjoyed the boy's paper scene very much.

downthetubes: So what boy's adventure titles did you work on?

Garry: Bullet then Warlord, Crunch and Champ. I also had a short stint on Victor and Hotspur annuals in their last days.

downthetubes: Presumably you were involved in the very beginnings of Bullet so would you like to let us in on one of the secrets of British comics - who was Fireball?

Garry: Fireball was the typical all-action hero, drawn by a variety of Spanish artists. Masip and Fuentes Man were two. He was young, good-looking, moustachioed, medallion-wearing and very macho. Editor Pete Clark thought it was a good idea if he became real.

Garry Fraser is Fireball!There were five of us on the staff and only one, Ken Peters, had a mouser! But because I answered all the criteria required (apart from that!) I was chosen! Photos were taken and a black moustache added by re-touchers!

To say I got some stick is an understatement! (I have managed to retain all the negs for posterity's sake!)

downthetubes: How were the photo shoots for the character organised and did you ever get recognised as Fireball since you didn't have a moustache?

Garry: I would go to a room in the building and a staff photographer would photograph me in a variety of poses!

I once had to go down to a gents fashion shop and was pictured, dressed to the nines, with glamorous blonde as if I was the hip, smooth operator Fireball was! I was also pictured beside a Tiger Moth with full flying suit and very, very tight parachute harness!

Once, when I was standing at bus-stop one morning a wee lad came up, looked quizzically at me and said "Are you Fireball?" I mumbled something along the lines of "Don't be silly, laddie!"

One Friday a call came in asking to speak to Fireball. My colleague, bless him, had the presence of mind to say that he was out on a mission! Apart from that, my alter-ego was never questioned!

downthetubes: With the editorial characters of Warlord and Bullet being uncle and nephew, how much of a cross over was there between the editorial sides of the two comics?

Garry: The only cross over was when uncle or nephew appeared in the other's story, which was very rare. The other connection was Lord Peter Flint's arch enemy was Gruber and Fireball's was Reburg! Cunning word reversal! In fact they could have been uncle and nephew too, if memory serves.

Reburg, Fireball's enemy - from Bullet

downthetubes: Both Warlord and Bullet had clubs to join. How popular where the two clubs at the time and can you give us an idea of how many readers actually joined either of them?

Garry: Crikey, I have no idea how many joined either club. The Bullet club gave a Fireball pendant to its members. I still wear mine to social functions! (Only kidding!)

I think all clubs were run through our Prize Room Department, cos they would have been addressed to a PO Box in London and not to HQ in Dundee.

downthetubes: Battle was IPC's answer to Thomson's Warlord, while Action and Bullet were also very similar comics and, remarkably, Bullet and Action have the same cover dates on their first issues - Valentine's Day 1976.

Were the Bullet staff aware that IPC was creating a very similar title, even down to the photographic editorial character?

Garry: I was not involved in the actual planning of the Bullet launch but we were aware of the competition. In these days the market could tolerate two similar mags. Not today, I'm afraid.

Warlorddownthetubes: Bullet folded into Warlord in December 1978 after almost three years of publication. This sort of news is normally only conveyed to the readership the week before it happens with the dreaded "Great News Inside, Chums!" or words to that effect.

How long beforehand would the staff know of the cancellation and amalgamation and how do they choose then what strips or features from Bullet would continue on into Warlord?

Garry: The staff would get an idea through circulation figures and would be in the know a good while ahead of the readers. Normally the strong characters and stories would be carried over, but not if they clashed in any way. There wasn't room for both a full-length 'Codename Warlord' AND a full-length 'Fireball' each week, so I was binned!

downthetubes: Your alter ego did in fact continue on in Warlord as the much shorter 'Young Fireball' strip. Were you sad to see the back of the character when that strip eventually finished?

Garry: To be honest, when I moved on to other things I more or less forgot about it -- unless someone came across an old photo.

It's still a bit of a laugh, to be honest. Everyone else is just jealous!

Part Two of this interview covers Nutty, Classics from the Comics and more...

All comic images are © DC Thomson & Co Ltd


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