When we recently reported on a plan to bring some of artist Ken Reid’s humour comics back into print with a crowdfunding appeal – “Frankie Stein” and the “The Nervs” to name but two – British comic fans greeted the news with utter delight.
Not that this should be any surprise. The late Ken Reid, who worked on a huge number of strips for both DC Thomson and Fleetway Editions over a long career that began before World War Two with “The Adventures of Fudge the Elf” for the Manchester Evening News, is something of a comics legend. His distinctive flair for the bizarre and comedic grotesque remains unsurpassed for many, evidenced in strips such as “Faceache” (now being re-published by Rebellion), “Jonah” and “Roger the Dodger” (for The Beano) and “Frankie Stein”, which debuted in Wham! in the 1960s.
Ken, who died in 1987, is rightly regarded as an equal to humour artists such as Davy Law and Leo Baxendale in terms of his influence on British humour comics, a legend as much as artists such as Frank Bellamy, Frank Hampson and Ian Kennedy are to adventure comics.
downthetubes caught up with publisher Irmantas Povilaika to talk to him about his collection plans. The POWer Pack of Ken Reid crowdfunder, collecting all Ken’s Wham!, Smash! and POW! strips published in the 1960s, is live now on IndieGogo.
Born and living in Lithuania, family man Irmantas Povilaika used to be a freelance cartoonist in his twenties, Who now works in the country’s tourism industry. He wrote and drew comics for the Lithuanian national humour magazine for a few years and was even nominated as Artist of the Year at some point in the early 1990s.
He started collecting British comics in 2007 and now has a vast collection, including quite a few complete runs. Odhams and IPC comics are his favourites, and he’s covered a few of the latter in detail on his fantastic Kazoop! blog which he’s been writing since 2012.
downthetubes: Congratulations on securing a deal on this Ken Reid collection. It’s unusual in that the number of collections from pre 1970 British comics material owned by TimeUK/ Epris have been pretty sparse, and because this collection is dependent on a crowdfunder for their publication.
Was it hard to persuade the copyright owners to agree a deal?
Irmantas: Working with TimeUK was a pleasure, [Their archivist] David Abbott was always quick and efficient.
It was actually more difficult to track down who the actual owner of copyright was, but when I found out, things developed quite smoothly.
downthetubes: What strips will be in the collection and how did you choose them?
Irmantas: The collection will include the complete sets of “Frankie Stein”, “Jasper the Grasper”, “Queen of the Seas”, “Dare-A-Day Davy” and “The Nervs”.
Choosing them was simple for obvious reasons – I wanted it to be the complete collection of Ken Reid’s works in Odhams comics in the period 1964 – 1969 when they were being published, and when Ken was given a lot of freedom to draw what he liked, how he liked it.
downthetubes: When did you first encounter Ken Reid’s work and what do you think is it about his strips that gives them such enduring appeal?
Irmantas: The first time I saw Ken’s work was in an early issue of Whoopee! comic for which he drew those brilliant “World-Wide Weirdies” pages.
We didn’t have comics as such in Lithuania at that time – we were part of the Soviet Union then, and the genre was probably frowned upon by the authorities… It so happened that a pen-pal from the UK sent me the Whoopee! when I was about 10, and it inspired me to try my hand at the genre. When I started collecting British comics a decade or so ago, I soon discovered many of Ken’s strips in the various comics, and I thought they really stood out from the rest due to inimitable artwork and the crazy sense of humour. Many fans in the UK probably like Ken’s work due to nostalgia, but I’m immune in that sense because I simply wasn’t familiar with it back in the day. This serves to demonstrate that its appeal goes beyond nostalgia. I hope this isn’t just me J
downthetubes: Have you been able to source original artwork for any of the strips that feature in the collections?
Irmantas: Yes, indeed. The collection will include some of Ken’s sketches and previously unseen drawings, and there will be free prints of original artwork included as well.
downthetubes: You’re also working with Ken Reid’s family on this project, as well as securing introductions from comics archivist Steve Holland and artist Nigel Parkinson. What do Ken’s family think about the continued interest in their father?
Irmantas: Ken’s family and his son Antony in particular are keen to preserve his legacy and have been very helpful when I was putting the books together.
Antony wrote funny introductions for the books and allowed me to use Ken’s archive material to research and write the detailed biography of the artist covering the five years when he worked for Odhams.
In fact, fans might be interested to know that together with another fan in the UK, we are now working on the complete and full biography of Ken Reid that will cover his whole career in comics.
Antony is also involved in the project and I hope the biography book will be a big success when it is eventually released. The biography on the Odhams period included in the collection that I’m doing is just a taste of what is to come.
downthetubes: You’ve documented many of Ken Reid’s strip on your own blog. Do you think there is a particular project that is stand out bonkers, of all the strips he drew?
Irmantas: If I had to pick my top five, they would be “Frankie Stein”, “Dare-A-Day Davy”, “The Nervs”, “Faceache” and the whole Wanted Posters + Creepy Creations + World-Wide Weirdies series.
downthetubes: Have you ever come across any art for his planned strip for 2000AD, telling the story of a nuclear war survivor – apparently rejected by management for being too downbeat?
Irmantas: I haven’t, although I’ve read about it. I may be wrong but this may be a bit of an “urban legend”. Indeed, Ken did approach IPC with a very weird idea along similar lines in the end of 1969, but it didn’t involve nuclear war. Details will be revealed in the complete biography I’ve mentioned.
downthetubes: Which Ken Reid strip in these planned collections is your favourite – and why?
Irmantas: This would be “Frankie Stein” – because it is funny, inventive, superbly rendered and cheerful. “Jasper the Grasper” had great potential too, and it’s a shame Ken didn’t have time to do more of that.
I also like “Dare-A-Day-Davy” a lot, because of the brilliant darker bits that Ken introduced in them, such as the monsterized portraits of the readers who suggested the dares for Davy to take on.
As for “The Nervs”, I like them due to the huge number of crazy new characters that Ken introduced in each episode.
Actually, it is hard to pick my favourite one of the five – they are all excellent!
downthetubes: If this crowdfunder is a success, are you already considering further collections of classic material?
Irmantas: I’ve had a great time and enjoyed myself a lot while working on the project, and I do hope it does well. There are many other strips that I think deserve to be collected in a similar way, so let’s see how this goes.
downthetubes: Thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with your crowdfunding!
• You can now back the The POWer Pack of Ken Reid project on Indiegogo at www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-power-pack-of-ken-reid-books#/