Following up on our incorporation of Moose Harris’ Sevenpenny Nightmare features about 1970s comic Action into downthetubes, the pop and culture site Bigmouth has just published a great feature on the comic, placing the censored comic in context and interviewing creator Pat Mills (who went on to crate 2000AD and Misty).
“In its short life, Action captured a side of Britain that otherwise only music’s clandestine subcultures would touch: the seductive, ultraviolent, bovvered-up, Diamond Dogs-meets-Scum world of street nihilism and black humour,” the feature notes, “And it left its mark on young minds, not least on that of young Action reader and future film director Ben Wheatley, who would use one of the comic’s most infamous covers in his 2016 movie of JG Ballard’s High-Rise. Action burned briefly but brightly, like a molotov cocktail in mid-air. And for its creator Pat Mills, who immediately went on to launch 2000AD and become one of the most influential figures in British comics, Action’s demise is still a source of regret.”
A combination of forces railed against the comic, which ceased its original run with Issue 36 and a planned Issue 37 was pulped, with only some 30 copies known to have survived the cull. Action would return, but in a much-diluted form, limping its way to eventual merger with Battle.
“However it happened, we let the readers down,” Mills, who now live in Spain, tells Bigmouth “those readers invested in Action and we let them down. I’m sad about that, although I like to think a lot of them will have taken something positive from it rather than, ‘This is what happens when you go too far’. And what also makes me sad is that there’s no reason why, with a bit more time and patience, Action couldn’t have evolved into something like 2000AD. If I’d had more time, it would still be around today.”
Pat walks Bigmouth’s readers through the comic’s most-remembered strips such as “Hook Jaw” and “Hellman of Hammer Force” , and there’s comment too from Steve “Action Man” MacManus, whose own memories of the project appear in The Mighty One, released 8th September by Rebellion.
“Pat was passionate about working with picture strips as a means of entertainment,” says Steve. “Slowly, it began to dawn on me that he was a master of the art of creating compelling characters for kids and all he needed was writers who could take those characters on dramatic journeys. The line-up of the characters in Action’s first issue is testament to this.”
Pat notes that the final nails in the coffin for Action were not just down to the media backlash, but staff changes.
“Having built an entire career out of being subversive, I kind of revel in it,” he laughs. “But I knew roughly how far to go. Not because I was a superior being but because I’d found out over the years. After I left there were newbies on the block and they didn’t know. They were told, Hey, you’ve got to be controversial, you’ve got to be cutting edge. But there are so many ways to interpret that and sadly, Action paid a price for it.”
For Steve MacManus the source of the comic’s demise was obvious. “It was a sitting duck from the moment the men from the press got interested,” he say, the article noting Editorial Director John Sanders appearance on BBC Nationwide and other press coverage, documented here. “IPC’s board wasn’t going to prejudice its range of women’s titles by defending a comic.” But for Mills, there were other factors at play, arguing some of the backlash was, he feels, politically motivated.
• Read the feature in full: ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare – Bigmouth
• Catch up on Moose Harris’ guide to Action right here on downthetubes (please note, this is still work in progress as we reconstruct some parts of the site)