I started reading comics when I was very young, but the titles I chose in those early years were a little tame. Buster, Cor!, Shiver and Shake, which went on to join Whizzer and Chips. Kids stuff. I have a brother who is about two years older than me and he used to buy Shoot!, Tiger (with or without Scorcher) and the brand new Tiger spin-off Roy of the Rovers. He was into football, I wasn’t.
It was the first week of February 1976. Back then, the cover date on a comic was the date newsagents should pull the comic from the shelves, not the date it went out. Karrot (big brother) opted out of sporting comics and picked up the first issue of Bullet, a new boys title from DC Thomson. It was the bastard son (or nephew as it turned out) of Warlord. It had a free gift, you could spend 35 new pence to join a club that got you a code wallet and a moulded plastic disc on a plastic cord with the Fireball logo on it. It taught you how to survive should you be stranded in the wild, using just an old tin, filled with safety pins, string and an Oxo cube.
In short, it was traditional ‘boys fare’ making a bad attempt at being ‘gritty’. Most of my school friends were buying it, and joining the club, to boot. For a rough, tough, bag of old bollocks it certainly was popular. Not popular enough as it transpired (but it lasted longer than Action), but the demise and absorption of Bullet by Warlord were still some 147 issues away. Rumour had it that it even contained a Fugitive-style story called “The Running Man”, which sounds remarkably familiar.
What Bullet totally failed to do however, was to rock the boat, even a tiny bit.
I had a good friend at the time called Simon Ashford. Ash used to get a lot of comics, unlike in our house where we were limited to one each on top of our (meagre 10p-a-week) pocket money. Ash bought Spider-Man, Warlord, Bullet, Battle Picture Weekly and on the very day Bullet launched, the first copy of Action. He brought it round to show me, I bought it off of him straight away and ‘placed an order with my newsagent to avoid disappointment’. I was hooked. Keep your stupid plastic disc and your code book, I’ve got a Red Arrow catapult and a T-shirt with a shark on it (although with an irony known only to mothers, mine was a very pale blue one).
Throughout the long hot summer of ’76 I would be out of bed at the break of dawn every Saturday morning, pounding on the newsagent’s door demanding my copy of Action. Comics were a Saturday thing round our way, you couldn’t buy them until the weekend in case they put you off your school work. At first, the issues were well thumbed and then cast aside, until one week I noticed a letter telling readers how they could store old copies in cut away cornflakes packets. Store them? Keep a comic for longer than a week? What a novel idea. Some 6,000 comics later the idea seems normal to me.
Anyway, I rooted through the cupboards in my bedroom and unearthed all the issues, some looked a bit tatty, some had holes in where a particularly vicious killing by Hook Jaw had made it onto the cover of one of my school books. I restored them lovingly with Sellotape, and coloured in the gaps with felt-tipped pens. (I was eight for God’s sake, what did I know?)
Step two was to tip cornflakes all over the kitchen as I left the liner bag on the table and made off with the box. Pretty soon it was cut down correctly and covered with white paper so that I could decorate it by drawing pictures of all my favourite characters all over it. Then I took it to school to show all my friends. Fireball that, suckers.
Everything went well until the week ending 11th September. I was on holiday with my family in the quiet Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac. Saturday morning came and I walked two miles in the pouring rain from the campsite to the nearest (and only) newsagent. Why did we choose to go on holiday the week the drought finally ended? I searched the shop with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. No Action. It just wasn’t there.
I asked, and was told that they didn’t stock things like that in their shop… what with all that graphic violent stuff. Holiday ruined, but never mind, I thought, it’s on order back home, just need to wait until next week and then pick up both issues at once. What a treat, but no…what’s happened? Disaster! Because I hadn’t picked up my issue on the previous Saturday, they’d sold it to someone else. How dare they? I held back the tears. There was always hope. Get on with September 18th’s issue, but what was this? Rick Mason’s head? Kids Rule O.K.? I’d missed something important obviously. It took nearly a month to finally get hold of that lost issue, but by then there were worse things on the horizon.
At 6 o’clock one evening we were sat in the living room watching BBC’s magazine show, Nationwide. They promised to show a piece about boys comics, particularly Action. ‘Oh, great!’ I thought. That soon turned to ‘Oh, Christ!’ as the item started and by the end my cornflakes box was in my Mum’s hands and she had a look in her eye. It wasn’t all bad, I was told I could never buy Action again, and all my copies (nearly all…I hid some) went onto a hastily made fire in the garden. Not only that, I had to put them on it myself and watch them burn.
Calamity, I was depressed.
I secreted the salvaged issues in the loft and set about a plan to restore my happiness. I begged, borrowed and pleaded for issues with friends. I sold other stuff to buy them, I did whatever it took. Eventually my collection was restored, but Action was gone from the shops, what was going on?
News of the ban went around fast. We were gutted. What to do now? I shunned picking up any other comic in its place, it would be a betrayal. By December, Action was back, but even a nine-year-old could see that it wasn’t the same. Having looked at it, my parents decreed that it was all right for me to buy it again.
What worse endorsement could there be?
I drifted back into Action before Christmas and stayed with it through the merger with Battle, but it wasn’t the same. Eventually I gave up and picked up 2000AD, which I had originally persuaded Karrot to buy, because of the one comic rule. He’d lost interest in it and was buying The Face instead. I was never a big fan of war comics, so dropping Battle Action was no big loss. I sometimes wish I’d stayed on for the end of “Charley’s War” and I never did see whether “Johnny Red” reached England in the ‘Flying Gun’ but I didn’t care anymore.
They took away our comic… the bastards!
Text © Moose Harris
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