WHAT images your memories have conjured up since last week’s article on old comics.
Of parents eagerly awaited as they brought home the coveted weekly issues; of small girls comparing the latest thrilling story at school; of swapping the latest Hotspur or Dandy with friends; of treasuring and re-reading old and battered copies on wet afternoons during the summer holidays.
Comics were so much part of a young person’s life back then.
Fintan Bloss remembers his mother bringing home the weekly comics from Kilgrews on the corner of Kyle Street and North Main Street. Everyone in the family favoured different publications, and he has an enviable recollection of them all.
“Our sister Bernadette started off with Twinkle (which would sometimes have a free ring stuck to the cover) and later progressed to Bunty and Mandy.
“Bunty had a cut out wardrobe section where she would fit the Bunty paper doll with various outfits. Nurse Nancy and Dandy Lion were regulars, I think.”
Younger brother Don (whose “clutter archives” unearthed the comics held by the brothers in the photo on the left) was a Topper and Beezer fan and enjoyed Hungry Horace, Tricky Dicky, Peter Piper, and Ghastly Manor from Topper, and Ginger Numskulls, Saucy Sue, Colonel Blink and Plug from Beezer.
Tony preferred the Beano, which had a Summer Special made up of Lord Snooty, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher (you could join their fan club and get a wallet containing membership card and club secrets), Minnie the Minx, Ball Boy, Roger the Dodger, and the Mad Ads.
Fintan himself was an avowed Dandy fan and enjoyed the adventures of Korky the Cat, Smasher, Desperate Dan, Dirty Dick, and Bully Bèef and Chips.
“I remember in the late Sixties finding an old Dandy dating from the Fifties under a mattress in our uncle’s bungalow in Crosshaven. I hadn’t realised it was in circulation since 1937!”
Paul Lombard grew up in Rochestown when it was still a quiet village, and went to the city with his mother each week to do the major shopping.
“Once that was done, we headed for Oliver Plunkett Street to O’Sullivan’s newsagents where my mother would have handed in her handwritten list the previous week: Spotlight magazine for my elder brother Liam. Tiger, Beano, Dandy comics for me and my twin brother Chris, Shoot soccer magazine for us all, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Way for herself, plus of course the Examiner, and the Southern Star for neighbours, both of which would be passed from house to house, when we got home.
“I can still see the queues of people inside that shop, and hear the customers shouting their orders to the husband, wife, daughter family.
“I have amazing memories of the O Sullivans who managed to keep everyone happy. Simpler times.”
Ger Fitzgibbon recalls the more unusual weeklies like Radio Fun and Film Fun.
“They had cartoon-stories in them featuring people I knew nothing about (Red Skelton and Arthur Askey, for instance). But Old Mother Riley was one of my favourites and I did see some of those movies: a fascinating drag act by an actor called Arthur Lucan. I thought he was brilliant. A really extreme, physical clown who lifted the more grotesque kind of pantomime dame out of panto and into music-hall and cinema.”
The other biggies in our house (there were six of us kids) were what the Americans call ‘the funny papers’.
Some uncle in the U.S. would gather these up (I think they were newspaper supplements), roll them into a large bundle and post them to my grandmother, who then passed them on to us.
They arrived randomly every month or two and, because we all grabbed what we could once they were untied, we were always reading stuff out of sequence.
There were one-off little stories about Dagwood and such, plus follier-uppers like Dick Tracy and The Phantom (a kind of Batman guy).”
Like most other boys, Ger moved on from the Beano and Dandy to Tiger, with its main hero, Roy of the Rovers. “And I remember the early years of Beezer. I never took to Eagle, even though I was a big fan of Dan Dare on radio. I think I was beginning to discover that sometimes it’s more satisfying to imagine your hero than to see him.”
After that, 64-pager war comics became the favoured currency at school and amongst friends.
“Some years later I got into Mad magazine in a big way, with its catchphrase, ‘What, Me Worry?’ I remember being a gawky teenager (about 15 or so) going into a newsagents up in Newry and asking the immortal question: ‘Do you get mad in here?’ Fortunately, I can’t recall the reply!”
Denis Mahony’s recollections are filled by visions of Peelo’s second-hand shop in Shandon Street. “It was there I got all my comics when a young fella. My uncle used to read sci-fi magazines and always sent me to exchange them in Peelo’s.”
It was a wonderful shop, he says, with piled shelves of secondhand books, magazines, and comics.
“For a small fee, you could exchange your old comics for others. I started to browse the American comics then and became a fan of superheroes; Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern.
“Another character I remember is Plastic Man. He could change shape to anything. His best trick was extruding himself through keyholes and arriving at the other side of locked doors.
“I always read them second-hand. I don’t know if they were ever available new at that time, in the Fifties.”
Denis remembers his sister reading School Friend, Bunty, and Girls Crystal. “I’d claim I never read them, but then, how can I remember ‘The Four Marys’ serial?”
He also dimly remembers an Irish magazine distributed by the Christian Brothers. “Was it Our Boys? I think it had a partly comic shape but also included stories about ghostly happening in the countryside.”
Tim Cramer, in his autobiography, The Life of Other Days, remembers reading incessantly in the 1940s and early 50s, “since television was unheard of, and few had the wireless”.
Everybody, he says, began with the comics, the Dandy, Beano, and Knockout, and later progressed to the teenagers’ Champion, Hotspur, Adventure, Rover, and Wizard.
“Then came along the most wonderful of all, the brand new Eagle, setting very high standards of entertainment and information with its advanced concept of travel in outer space with the intrepid Dan Dare, and its famous centre-page spread of cut-away drawings of the mechanical marvels of the day: steam locomotives, aircraft, submarines, ships, turbines, and so on.”
Tim makes the point that, although their parents and teachers tended to look down on these comics, he feels that they inculcated the reading habit in many, who then went on to develop their literary interests in a wider field.
“Even today, I would far rather see a child reading a comic than watching the television set or a video.”
Mary Holly was a School Friend fan. “Whenever I had to be taken out of school for an eye appointment, School Friend was my treat afterwards,” she recalls.
Caroline Barry remembers vividly a fellow pupil at St Angela’s actually winning a scarf from Bunty magazine. “We were all so jealous! We stood around at break, just staring at her as she waved this incredible treasure around in front of us. It was a sort of contact with that magical world.”
For all those pre-teens assiduously practising their steps at Joan Denise Moriarty’s school of dance, the Sandra of the Secret Ballet serial every week in Judy magazine was the lodestar.
“There she was in this remote castle with lots of other girls, studying to become a great dancer, and we so envied her,” remembers Nina.
“They had a very strict and frightening teacher in Madame Sierra, and we knew all about that with Miss Moriarty, who terrified the life out of us!”
As pre-teen girls grew older, and began to dream of going out, meeting someone special, a new attraction was the array of True Love teenage comics available in the dark little newsagents’ shops of the narrow old Paul Street, before it was transmogrified into the modern commercial avenue it is today.
“They were very innocent really, those papers, although my mother used to scold me for reading them,” says Jane.
“You usually had a girl working in a factory and going to the dance on Friday nights, where she would meet this rugged, handsome man. They were always rugged and handsome in those strip cartoons.”
Misunderstandings and tears would inevitably follow, to fill the (normally two-page) story, but the final picture was always of a kiss in the moonlight or a happy wedding day.
“When you think of it, we were groomed to leave school, find a man, get married, and continue like our parents and grandparents,” says Jane wryly.
“There wasn’t much in those True Love papers about breaking out and studying to conquer disease or invent something.
“You did get a little bit of that in the upmarket comics like Girl, when they featured Marie Curie or someone like that, but not generally.”