Action: The Story of a Violent Comic – When The Crumblies Flipped It – Kids Rule OK…?

"Kids Rule OK" - Petrol Bomb Attack

Kids Rule OK” – the worst villain of the piece, according to many of the critics. Jack Adrian’s original notes for the story are interesting. Adrian’s scheme was to have a plague – made plausible by reference to a good deal of scientific evidence – virtually wipe out all adults.

“Thus the basic situation is that, at the moment, all the kids are doing is mooching about generally living off the fat of the land, not particularly bothering with anything… since no-one else is bothering them … I’d like to get into this story a real Lord of the Flies atmosphere. The savagery of the kids who’ve had the reins taken off them. No discipline. No one bothering about anything because there’s stacks of supplies, petrol, canned food, and so on, left. Why think about tomorrow? They’re almost just wandering around, eating and fighting (in a minor sort of way) because there’s nothing else to do – until something really drastically happens that convinces Ray [the ‘hero’] that they can’t go on like this … They’ve got to do it all themselves, and it’s no joke from now on.”

Lord of the Flies is the famous novel by William Golding about a group of boys plane-wrecked on an uninhabited island. They have to set about rebuilding some sort of society since it is the middle of a war, and their chances of being rescued are very slight. But they make a total mess of it. They become obsessed with terrors, and fall apart into warring, primitive groups who use blood-hunts to try to appease the dark forces within/outside them. Golding makes the novel a kind of fable on human nature and the dangers in it. The fact that they are children means that they are not yet, in such conventional terms, fully civilised. In them, we can see what would happen if social controls were removed.

Written in the early 1950s, it coincided with people’s attempts to explain the horrors of Nazism, the rise of the Cold War, and the campaign against horror comics. There is something very apposite in Action trying to carry its own version of Golding’s notion. It certainly fits my theory that Action was a very special comic, one in which a whole new view of the world – from the kids’ own point of view – was being worked through. But just because of that, it posed a particular problem. How do you end such a story, especially when a second element – crucially part of the Action scenario – has been built in?

That second element was what Adrian called “an authoritarian threat from Army cadets”, a bunch of near-fascist police who (in the story) are prepared to use all manner of force, including a hint of sexual sadism against the girl-member of Ray’s gang, to exert their control. The two strains – the Lord of the Flies and anti-authority elements – are not that far apart, because the implication under the story is that the adults have already made a real mess of the world, and their authority is part of the problem. One “Kids Rule” story that never made it into print – intended for the 1978 Annual, but scrapped – ends with the kids blowing up an entire arms and ammunition dump along with a group of crazed bikers (I sometimes wonder if Adrian had had a particularly nasty experience with a bunch of Hell’s Angels…). Denny, the “hero”, remarks in the final sequence: “In any case maybe we can do without guns, bombs, and things like that. Maybe that’s what was wrong with the world before all the oldies snuffed it.”

Original ideas for the title of this story included “Kids’ Power”, “Lords of London”, “After the Oldies Died”, or “Dear Dad” (I’ve never quite understood the logic of that last one…). Jack Adrian particularly asked for Mike White as artist for the story, following his experience of working with him on “Hell’s Highway“. This was an excellent choice. White had a sombre, sharp and threatening style that gave a sense of menace and chaos before ever a word was read.

“Kids Rule OK” poses a particular problem for those of us with an interest in censorship issues. Without question, the bulk of the story is extremely violent, obsessively grim and hopeless. Its vision of the world is a nightmare. (One reader wrote to me that “Kids Rule” gave him nightmares when he thought about it. He went to one of the toughest schools in Glasgow. and kept imagining what would happen in his own situation, if controls were removed.) This is not the place to mount a defence of the need to allow such dark visions. I invite you instead to think for yourselves how you feel about it.

Read More in this Section of “Sevenpenny Nightmare”

Action: The Story of a Violent Comic (about the book by Martin Barker) | Action: The Story of a Violent Comic – Introduction | Developing the Formula | The Critics Bite Back – TO BE ADDED | Moving in for the Kill – TO BE ADDED | So, Should Action Have Been Censored? – TO BE ADDED | Hook Jaw: The Shark Bites Back – TO BE ADDED | The Lost Pages of Hook Jaw – TO BE ADDED | How Lefty Lost His Bottle  – TO BE ADDED | The Lost Pages of Lefty – TO BE ADDED | Death Game 1999: Steel Balls to the Finish | The Lost Pages of Death Game 1999 – TO BE ADDED | When The Crumblies Flipped It: Kids Rule OK…? | The Lost Pages of Kids Rule O.K. | Dredger… No Comment | The Final Reckoning | Estimating Action

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This is an excerpt from Action: The History of a Violent Comic by Martin Barker, featured here as part of the Sevenpenny Nightmare project edited by Moose Harris. Text © Martin Barker.


See this section’s Acknowledgments section for more information