Becoming Ken...

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klakadak-ploobadoof
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by klakadak-ploobadoof »

Peter Gray wrote:Anyone fans of Ali Ha Ha..

I think it has its moments... :)
One very big fan here :) My impression is that when Ken got back to drawing Jonah after a lengthy break in the end of 1961/the beginning of 1962, he did it with lesser enthusiasm than before and for some reason Jonah was no longer as good as it used to be. Ken put a lot more effort into drawing Ali Ha Ha and later Big Head and Thick Head in the Dandy, and IMHO the two strips, alongside with Jinx and Ken’s last episodes of Roger the Dodger in the Beano, are a much better illustration of the gradual development of Ken's style into Wham! Smash! and Pow! material that is so much admired by fans.
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philcom55
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by philcom55 »

...So when did Ken become 'Ken'?

A lot of people are convinced that this happened during his five year run on Jonah in the pages of Beano, sometime between March 15th 1958 and June 8th 1963. In his book 'A Very Funny Business' Leo Baxendale believed that he could pin that moment down to a precise episode in the issue dated September 6th 1958 when Jonah suddenly appeared to lose his neck, almost as though one too many catastrophic explosions had finally resulted in a reverse facelift. Unfortunately I don't own that particular issue, but here are 'before and after' portraits that clearly show his transmogrification from run-of-the-mill idiot to the ‘sea-goon’ we all know and love:

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There's no doubt that Jonah represented a high water mark in the history of British humorous comics - perhaps the highest ever - but it's worth remembering that Ken Reid was still working from someone else's scripts at that stage: usually those of Walter Fearn. As in the best artistic collaborations (Rodgers & Hart, Lennon & McCartney, Lee & Kirby, etc.) Ken and Walter developed an almost magical partnership on this strip so that, in the words of Leo Baxendale, “they started to strike sparks off each other, and suddenly the feature caught alight”. Before long Reid began to take a hand in the writing himself - adding extra panels and sequences whenever he thought they would heighten the comic effect; in some cases he’d even extend a story over two or three issues, and as the strip shot to the top of readers’ popularity charts (overtaking even Dennis the Menace and The Bash Street Kids) DC Thomson were more than happy to indulge him.

In Leo’s estimation Jonah reached its peak during 1959, but “under the relentless pressure of the non-stop comics schedules, it was never possible that a series drawn with such passion could have been kept going indefinitely”. Sure enough, sometime during 1961 Ken experienced some kind of breakdown which left him unable to work at all for six weeks. Jonah limped along at the hands of lesser artists, and even when Ken was judged well enough to return he could only provide pencils for about a year. To my mind the strip never really recovered from this derailment and, in spite of some marvelous moments, its last two years saw an overall falling off in quality which was reflected in Thomson’s decision to remove it from the back cover. The fact that such a popular series was allowed to conclude altogether in June 1963 was a clear recognition of Reid’s crucial importance to its success (by contrast the Beano’s editor had no trouble at all in finding new artists to take over Baxendale’s own characters).

Unfortunately I don’t own enough Beanos from the relevant years to pinpoint the precise moment at which Ken suffered his breakdown. It seems to me, however, that in spite of what Leo says the year 1961 saw the absolute pinnacle of Jonah’s run - culminating in the classic, three-part ‘Dopy Mick’ sequence that appeared in the September of that year.

In my opinion the real key to Jonah’s greatness was the fact that he was rarely the star of his own series. Instead, Fearn and Reid treated each story as a brand new comic drama with a unique cast of characters who proceeded to face their own inevitable doom in the manner of a Greek Tragedy. At his best Jonah was less of a comic character and more of a force of Nature: a kind of ‘Deus ex Magoona’.

By way of illustration here are three more examples from that outstanding year. Firstly the two-part tale of the S.S. Neversink, which takes the basic structure of Bing-Bang Benny’s ‘what goes up must come down’ balloon story, but succeeds in making so much more of it. (I particularly like the concluding sequence with its brilliantly choreographed ‘Ode to a Dolphin’!)

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And finally, the sad story of Captain Bertram Breeze R.N., whose entire career is dictated by two brief encounters with Jonah.

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...But though ‘Jonah’ went into a gradual decline after this, Ken was to bounce back with three more strips during his remaining time at DC Thomson. In particular (as Peter and klakadak-ploobadoof have intimated), it was time for him to switch his attention to Dandy with Ali Ha Ha and Big Head & Thick Head!

- Phil Rushton

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klakadak-ploobadoof
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by klakadak-ploobadoof »

The process of Jonah’s loss of chin and the thickening of his neck was a gradual one and completed around the middle of 1959. I checked the issue that Leo Baxendale referred to in his book but couldn’t find much difference between that episode and those of the preceding week or the week after. Here ts the sequence of the three instalments in the Beano numbers 841, 842 and 843:

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swirlythingy
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by swirlythingy »

The precise panel Baxendale was referring to was probably the "Any chance of a lift, matey?" one. It does seem to me, now I look at it closely, that he has somewhat less chin in the following issue than the preceding one. Not that much of a difference, but artistic evolution is rarely instant.
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Peter Gray
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by Peter Gray »

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I love the extras you get in this strip..more character development..exploring there world..double endings..I love this thread we started at comicsuk forum.. 8)

http://petergraycartoonsandcomics.blogs ... -1961.html

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philcom55
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by philcom55 »

For some reason I've always vaguely remembered 'Ali Ha-Ha & the Forty Thieves' as a follow-up to Ken Reid's five-year run on 'Jonah', so when I checked the dates it came as something of a surprise to me that the two strips actually ran concurrently in Dandy and Beano, and that Jonah even outlasted Ali by a couple of months. On the other hand the latter character retained his place on Dandy's back cover right up to the end, whereas Jonah was relegated to an interior page of Beano during 1962 as Dennis the Menace reclaimed his old territory.

In fact, Ali Ha-Ha made his debut in the issue of Dandy dated October 15th 1960, the very same week that both Dandy and Beano took a dramatic leap forward by expanding from 12 to 16 pages, including full-colour centrespreads for the first time (albeit at the cost of a massive 50% price increase which saw the two comics jumping overnight from two 'old pence' to an eye-watering 'thruppence' each!).

Moreover, while the front covers of Dandy and Beano had always been printed in full colour (black, red, blue and yellow), their back pages had, for the most part, been limited to black and two colours: red and yellow in Beano's case, blue and yellow in Dandy's. To my eye this resulted in strips with a curiously anaemic look, as can be seen on the back cover which graced the final 'old-style' edition of Dandy.

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By contrast, the next week saw no less than two Ken Reid strips printed in full colour for the first time ever - ‘Jonah’ on the back of Beano and this introductory episode of ‘Ali Ha-Ha and the Forty Thieves’ on the back of Dandy:

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Whereas Jonah had made a relatively slow start in 1958, taking several months to build up a head of steam, Ali Ha-Ha pretty much hit the ground running. And while the assigned scripter might not have been as sure-footed as Fearn it’s clear that Reid had a massive input in designing the cast and embellishing the action. This was an artist at the height of his comic powers: in particular he went out of his way to come up with a dazzling array of characters. At a time when the overworked Baxendale was being forced to concentrate on a core group of Bash Street Kids Ken seemed to delight in drawing every single one of the forty thieves (in fact I suspect that there were far more than just forty over the course of the series).

Set in a land that was a mixture of the Arabian Nights and a caricatured version of present-day Bagdad, the ongoing battle of wits between Ali, his policeman father, and the ubiquitous thieves rarely ended well for the forces of law and order - with our junior hero inevitably getting the blame for each new debacle. It has to be said that Reid’s indiscriminate use of old-fashioned arab stereotypes would probably give rise to charges of racism and Islamophobia from a modern audience - at least until they realized that he generally drew everybody in the same exaggerated way, with the ugliest mugs of all being reserved for his own countrymen! I must confess that, as a kid, one part I found inexhaustibly funny was the way in which every single one of the Forty Thieves answered to the name ‘Mustapha’ - beginning with their leader Mustapha Phag, then going on to include an equally excruciating collection of puns such as Mustapha Banana, Mustapha Negg, Mustapha Laff, Mustapha Napple, etc. (Incidentally, does anyone know the name of the little chap in green who always tagged on to the tail end of the bandit horde?)

Here are a couple more of those strips that went head to head with Jonah during 1961:

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So it was that, from October 1960 until his breakdown in late 1961, Ken Reid enjoyed a kind of ‘Annus Mirabilis’ with an almost unbroken run of inspired lunacy appearing in glorious colour on the back pages of both Dandy and Beano. What’s more, he somehow found time to draw some Roger the Dodger sets (though sadly not the one that guest-starred Jonah!) as well as as a wealth of brilliant contributions to the 1962 Beano and Dandy Books. The former is, of course, famous for its striking Jonah strips and cover, but in my opinion the ten pages of Ali Ha-Ha material that Ken provided for that year’s Dandy Book were amongst the greatest he ever drew. Here are just a few examples (including a wonderful ‘Cops and Robbers’ game that gives some indication of what Ken might have been capable of if he ever produced a whole book of his own along the lines of Leo Baxendale’s ‘Willy the Kid’):

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(Note the incredible border designs in that two-pager: not just forty thieves, but an equal number of policemen!)

In spite of the inevitable dip in quality that afflicted both Jonah and Ali Ha-Ha during Ken’s illness the two strips did regain something of their old vigour when he eventually returned in 1962 (albeit with other people inking his work for a time). Nevertheless, things were never entirely the same. So it was that in 1963 DC Thomson decided to replace them with two brand new features - little realizing these would be the last new strips Reid would ever draw for them...

- Phil Rushton

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Peter Gray
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by Peter Gray »

This forum post
is like a Ken Reid book which is what we are after.....
wonderful scans and your thoughts Phil..


Great two pagers and fun borders...I really hope the new Dandy and Beano annual will have a two page spread fun..

Ali Ha Ha is brilliant...

I have no issues of Ken's Big Head and Thick head except the later ones with Frank..so I'm sure later on we'll see some of those on here..

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George Shiers
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by George Shiers »

Peter Gray wrote:This forum post
is like a Ken Reid book which is what we are after.....


I really want to see that book in print!

Also really enjoying seeing Reid's strips - I've only ever read two or three Jonah ans Ali-haha strips before as I struggle to get comics from that era!

:D :D :D :D :D
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stevezodiac
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by stevezodiac »

I was looking through some 60s Dandys last week and have to say as much as I love Ken's work it would be a tough choice for me to decide who I prefer between him and Bill Holroyd. Bill should be given as much kudos as Ken for his work in the Dandy. A similar knockabout style heavy on slapstick.

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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by Lew Stringer »

stevezodiac wrote:I was looking through some 60s Dandys last week and have to say as much as I love Ken's work it would be a tough choice for me to decide who I prefer between him and Bill Holroyd. Bill should be given as much kudos as Ken for his work in the Dandy. A similar knockabout style heavy on slapstick.
Agreed. Bill Holroyd's work was excellent. And he was Ken Reid's brother in law!
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philcom55
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by philcom55 »

Having picked up a copy of the first Scorcher Annual for 99p at a charity shop yesterday I was pleased to discover four new pages of Ken Reid's 'Sub' inside (at least I'm pretty sure they're by Ken).

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(...I just love those graphic emotional signifiers and sound effects! :) )

Given that IPC had an unfortunate habit of using different (often much less impressive) artists for their annuals and specials I wonder if anybody knows which other ones Ken definitely contributed to during the 1970s? (Another example, I think, is the second Scorcher Holiday Special which features a two page Hugh Fowler installment).

- Phil Rushton

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klakadak-ploobadoof
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by klakadak-ploobadoof »

Phil,
I checked my Scorcher Specials for contributions by Ken Reid (I don’t have the one from 1977). I believe the episodes that appeared after 1974 were all reprints, but I am not 100 per cent sure – I’ll have to check when I have time. Here are the findings:

Scorcher Summer Special 1970 – Sub: a 2-pager in b/w and a 1-pager on the back cover in full colour
Scorcher Holiday Special 1971 – Manager Matt: a 2-pager in b/w
Scorcher and Score Holiday Special 1972 – Hugh Fowler: a 2-pager in b/w
Scorcher and Score Holiday Special 1973 – nothing by Ken Reid
Scorcher and Score Holiday Special 1974 – Sub: two 2-pagers
Scorcher Holiday Special 1975 – Sub: on the back page in colour
Scorcher Holiday Special 1976 – Manager Matt: 1 page
Scorcher Holiday Special 1978 – Hugh Fowler: a 1-pager in b/w and a 1-pager in full colour (although I doubt if they are indeed by Ken Reid)
Scorcher Summer Special 1979 – Jimmy Jinks: 1 page by another artist and 1 page by Ken Reid
Scorcher Holiday Special 1980 – Jimmy Jinks: three one-pagers by Ken Reid.

I only have two Scorcher annuals so far, and here is what I found in them:

Scorcher Annual 1973 - Hugh Fowler: 2 pages
Scorcher Annual 1975 – Sub: 3 pages (a 1-pager and a 2-pager) - these are reprints, I believe
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philcom55
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by philcom55 »

Thanks Klakadak - I guessed that if anybody could answer my question it'd be you. For anyone who's interested here's that 'Sub' story from the 1971 Scorcher Annual in full (the other strip is printed in blue and black, but to my eye the reproduction is a bit muddy):

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If that Ken Reid book ever does materialize I hope they remember to include a comprehensive bibliography at the end.

- Phil Rushton

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Peter Gray
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by Peter Gray »

To finish off it would be great to have your thoughts on Big Head and Thick head and for a long time I never realised Frank took over from Ken...has he was a brilliant ghost on this strip...

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philcom55
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Re: Becoming Ken...

Post by philcom55 »

'Big Head and Thick Head' was one of Ken's last creations for DC Thomson before he defected to the greener (and better paying) pastures of Odhams' newly-launched Wham! in the Summer of 1964. Surprisingly this means that Frank MacDiarmid went on to draw twice as many episodes of the strip which continued under his hands until June 1967. Here are a couple of Ken's pages from 1963 and 1964, followed by an example of the MacDiarmid version from 1966 (it's interesting to see that, while the latter was able to ghost Reid's central characters almost to perfection, his conceptions of adult figures like the sewer inspector and the burglar are quite recognizably his own).

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Like so many of Ken's characters Big Head and Thick Head were both pathetic losers whose misconceived exploits regularly ended with them being beaten up by outraged bystanders (like the rugby team shown above). While the comic violence they suffered could be just as extreme as anything endured by the equally accident prone Bing-Bang Benny or Jonah, however, this series was unusual in that the two lead characters shared a genuine friendship that gave the strip a surprising sense of humanity (in this it was very different indeed from the later 'Banger and Masher'). Although they constantly argued and bickered like an old married couple there was always a sense in which they stood full-square together against a hostile world. In fact I'd go so far as to say that their chemistry was closer to the classic 'odd couple' partnership exemplified by Laurel and Hardy than anything else in the long histories of Dandy and Beano.

Although Ken was long gone from DC Thomson by Christmas 1964 there was one final treat to be found by his fans in the 1965 Dandy Annual which featured no fewer than eight 'Big Head and Thick Head' strips that he must have completed earlier in the year. In my opinion these contained some of the best work he ever produced for his old employers - to the extent that the pages shown below serve as a fitting postscript to the first half of his comic career; besides which, it's nice to take our leave of the two mismatched pals as they enjoy one of their rare happy endings...! :D

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Though others may disagree about the point at which Ken Reid became the 'Ken' whose pre-eminent genius outstripped the achievements of all his rivals, I personally have no doubt that it was in that halcyon Summer of 1964 when he finally slipped the traces of his autocratic masters in Dundee and began work on the sublime Frankie Stein!

But of course, that's a story for another day...! :)

- Phil Rushton

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