Not to be confused with the TV show of the 1960s (or its associated comics), “Skippy the Kangaroo” was an odd little humour strip that ran in the first volume of Eagle, and has been dismissed by some fans of the comic as something of a disappointment, its creators something of a mystery to comic fans.
It would seem, however, that there might have been much more to the strip, had events beyond the world of comics not troubled its production…
“Skippy the Kangaroo” centred on big game hunter Sir Marlborough Mouseworthy, commissioned by the Royal Zoo to go out and bring back a tiger. Instead, he’s rescued from a tiger by a tribe of talking kangaroos and as a result the multi-talented, mischievous Skippy returns to Britain with Sir Marlborough.
The entire story then relates Skippy’s adventures on his way to Europe, which might have prompted many readers to wonder just when he would get there – and could be one reason it only ran for a year.
“Skippy” gave way to “The Legend of the Lincoln Imp” by Nicholas Spargo (who later produced the Willo the Wisp TV series for BBC, then “King Ottokar’s Sceptre”, which was Tintin’s debut in English in the same centre page position, from August 1951 through to May 1952.
Given its simple story themes (and perhaps, poor translation from its French original, which a problem too for the first English version of Asterix in Britain, published as “Little Fred and Big Ed” in Valiant in the late 1960s) perhaps “Skippy the Kangaroo” have been better suited to Eagle‘s younger companion title Robin, which did not begin publication until 1953.
However, there could be other reasons for the strip’s demise. “Skippy the Kangaroo” is credited to a team of creators – Danet, Dubrisay and Genéstre and as an “André Sarrut Production”. The three named creators – artist L. Danet and animators G. Dubrisay and Roland Genéstre – all worked on Sarrut’s troubled animated film, The Shepherdess and Chimney Sweeper (La Bergere et le Ramoneur) between 1948 and 1950, a production which was never officially released.
At the time, the French production was one that was set, if it had been a success, to spawn a studio that would rival Walt Disney, employing over a hundred production staff – but it was not to be. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, written by Jacques Prévert, directed by Paul Grimault, when producer Sarrut showed the film unfinished in 1952, against Grimault’s wishes, production came to a halt, compounded by other issues such as a failure to secure British distribution.
(This version of the film has surfaced in English, with a voice cast that includes Peter Ustinov and Denholm Elliott, as The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird – but it is a version unrecognised by its director)
In 1967, Grimault got possession of the film, finally completed it under a new title, The King and the Mockingbird (Le roi et l’oiseau) released, at last, in 1980.
Could it be that “Skippy the Kangaroo” – perhaps not its original title in French – was not only a comic story, but might well have become another animated production from Sarrut had his studio survived? It would appear the fall out from the failed production impacted those working on it, including those working on “Skippy”, none of whom are today seem well known, at least in the world of comics.
Intriguingly,”Skippy the Kangaroo” also featured in the Australian version of Eagle, published by Advertiser Newspaper Limited of Adelaide from 21st May 1953 (Volume1 No.1) to 27th January 1955 (Volume 2 No.37), a total of 86 issues. DanDare.info notes the quality of the paper and reproduction was much inferior to its UK counterpart.
Dan and other favourites were present, as was “Luck of the Legion”, who was replaced with “Skippy the Kangaroo” for six months during the title’s run six months, but the legionnaire eventually reclaimed the centre spot.
You have to wonder if, perhaps, the name of the strip stuck with one of the creators of the 1960s TV series, who may have seen Eagle growing up. While the TV series is nothing like this mysterious Eagle strip, it enjoy international success, including the United Kingdom, and “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” enjoyed a hugely successful run in the weekly TV Comic, appearing as a one page strip between July 1969 and July 1973, as well as in numerous annuals, and in other licensed merchandise. Far more of a success than his mysterious Eagle-published predecessor…
• The problems of La Bergere et le Ramoneur are detailed here in the official press pack for Le roi et l’oiseau (PDF, in French) – and here in an article by Christophe Lenoir (in French, PDF)