As time has gone by, I have become more and more interested in how British comics were pitched, created and got to that crucial first issue where I, as a kid, would go “Ooh!” and fork out my hard earned pennies. So you can imagine my delight at finding – and buying – a dummy for the humour comic Cheeky Weekly, launched in 1977, on eBay.
I got my first dummy comic, Terra Nova, back in the early 2000s when artist Tony O’Donnell was downsizing before he moved to the Orkneys. I have also seen the gorgeous art that Graham Manley pitched to DC Thomson for the reboot of “Wilson”, which I believe was going to feature in the amazing-looking but never-realised Renga.
A decade later, I now have my second dummy issue – for Cheeky Weekly, an often surreal title fronted by Cheeky (drawn by Frank McDiarmid, who actually drew much of the comic), an established IPC character who had previously been a member of the Krazy Gang in Krazy Comic.
The British Comics wiki notes Cheeky Weekly‘s unusual format; instead of simply random, disconnected one or two page strips (both humour and adventure), each issue had a kind of narrative thread running through it, with Cheeky meeting and swapping appalling puns with various unlikely recurring characters such as the incontinent Walter Wurx, pneumatic lollipop lady Lily Pop, the accident prone Bump Bump Bernie, Auntie Daisy the School Meals Lady and more.
Strips in the first issue included “Skateboard Squad”, “James Bold”, “6 Million Dollar Gran”, a reprint of “Mike” from a 1949 issue of Knockout, “Baby Burpo”, “Home Movie: Hambush at DeadManz Gulch”, “Mustapha Million”, “Wile E. Coyote and Beep Beep” (from the Warner Bros. cartoons), rounding off with “Space Family Robinson”, drawn by 2000AD and Crash artist John Richardson.
This article is not an exhaustive examination of Cheeky, as that is ably covered on the Cheeky Weekly blogspot, but a look at the differences between the dummy that would initially have been prepared for Group Editor Bob Paynter’s approval and the final version that was published way back in October 1977.
The Cheeky Weekly blog outlines how IPC would often produce early versions of their new comics as publicity material to be distributed to newsagents. (Other publishers did the same, some dummies more involved than others).
“It would seem that the publishers felt that a tangible copy of the proposed comic would be more likely to convince shop owners that the new publication was going to appeal to kids,” the blog notes, “thereby encouraging healthy orders, than some sort of flyer.
“I think the dummy issues were included in a pack containing information about the comic, and examples of the free gifts if I’m not mistaken. In later years, of course, preview copies were given directly to the readers of existing comics – I’m thinking of Oink! and others that I can’t quite remember (Nipper, I think).”
The first obvious difference between the Cheeky dummy and the published first issue is that the dummy has a great big sign printed on the cover to make everyone aware that this was a dummy comic – and not the final authorised version.
Comparing the dummy with the final published cover reveals it has no other changes, but the same can’t be said for Page Two, confirming on comparison that buying this dummy, for me, was a worthwhile investment.
As you can see below, the dummy repeats the advisory disclaimer at the top of the page, and the page design went through a number of changes (by today’s standards, the design of both may seem primitive, but back in 1977 desktop publishing was still some years off).
There are other differences between the dummy and the final line-up. Surely no reader of Cheeky from its launch issue can forget the work of Massimo Bellardinelli on the first “James Bold” adventure strip (one of two alongside “Space Family Robinson”), “Fangs of Fear”…
But the dummy utilises art for the same story by a different artist, as yet unidentified. It certainly doesn’t look like the work of 2000AD artist Lopez, who took over from Belardinelli on the first story of Cheeky‘s supernatural adventurer, who in turn was replaced by Mike White. But neither does it appear to be a straight swipe of Eric Bradbury’s art from the 1960s Buster strip “Maxwell Hawke” that the “James Bold” stories were often based on.
(The “Fangs of Fear” story echoes the first Maxwell Hawke story in Buster, “The House of a Thousand Secrets”, published as a one page strip in 1960 and early 1961).
The final difference between the dummy and the published issue is the “What’s New, Kids” feature on page 15, best described as akin to the targeted adverts we all see daily on social media. It’s the kind of feature often used in British comics, and a concept still used today.
When I was younger, this “We think this is cool, go and buy it” type of feature used to work on me. Nowadays, it’s a complete bust as I spend the hard earned pennies on any other comics I can find!
Cheeky – Vital Stats
Launched: October 1977 (first issue cover dated 22nd October 1977)
Number of issues: 117,merged with Whoopee! (cover dated 2nd February 1980)
Cheeky Weekly, Whoopee! © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
Additional research by John Freeman