Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Sparky Comic 1965 to 1977.

First of all folks; here is my `Word` text history of the comic. The first entry is for 1965. Apologies for lack of Pictorial content!

THE SPARKY FILE. 23 January 1965 – 23 July1977.

(Or, “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About `Sparky` Comic, But Were Afraid To Ask!”)

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This `Sparky File` will strive to be (I hope!) the most comprehensive guide and review of D.C Thomson’s hither to neglected 1960s – 1970s comic, Sparky.`  It is both a factual guide and a subjective review of the comic and its contents circa 1965-1977.

I now have re stocked a near complete run of the comic to aid me in compiling the `file`. The years 1966 and 1967 were awkward for a while, but I now have a majority of issues from both years, plus my memory, to work on – though there are a couple of minor gaps in both. However, I do like to think that this is, hopefully, the `definitive` guide to the history of Sparky comic- so far.

I have striven to list every issue number and date where a strip begins and ends in the comic, including periods of omission when strips dropped out for weeks, months or even years! Because `Sparky` comic revived so many old characters from past issues of other Thomson titles such as the `Beano` and `Dandy` I have endeavoured to note which publication such characters first appeared in, e.g. `Hungry Horace` first appeared in the first issue of the Dandy` back in  1937.

Hopefully, I have catalogued all `fun pals` who originated in all such titles. I have also supplied names of artists where possible and of the writers, who are far harder to gain details on. This latter data comes via the folks on the `Comics UK` site who I have credited at the end of this article. Their help has been invaluable and I thank them fully.

As each fun or adventure strip and character is covered in an initial resume I have put the title in italics: example here using Hungry Horace once more to demonstrate. Only with the initial coverage will this be done for the readers benefit; other references as normal print.

There will be a brief summary for fun strips and a more detailed synopsis for adventure strips, particularly in the case of the more serious mode of adventure strips. Where fun strips have points of interest, e.g. new characters appearing for short runs in such; or notable episodes as with the `Thingummyblob` strips etc, then these will be noted. Some fun strips such as `I. Spy` and `Big Billy Big` ran episodic serials as part of their series. These will be described in more detail.

I aim to provide readers with an informative and comprehensive, as well as entertaining (I hope!) history of Sparky comic, and its assorted strips, both `fun` and `adventure`. Sparky comic has been sadly neglected by many comic historians,
so here’s hoping that the balance can be redressed somewhat. I am informed by those most able folks on the `Comic’s UK` site that the comic was set up by the `Boy’s and Girl’s comic department of D. C Thomson rather than the juvenile department which `Dandy, Beano, Topper and Beezer` originated from. I’m not sure what difference that makes, but that is how it originated.

The `file` consists of a year-by-year survey 1965 to 1977, its publication life, followed by a special `events` of each year, Politics, Sport, Music etc. Every years `fun` and `adventure` strips will be highlighted by a short summary of their characters and themes. As stated earlier, some strips, such as `Willy the Woeful Wizard` and `I. Spy` for example, due to their serial based format, allow for rather more comprehensive synopsis.

Following the 1965-77 chapters there is a chapter regaling my experiences with the numerous free gifts that I collected when the comic underwent it’s many (nine) revamps, when it was trying to boost it’s none too healthy sales. Of course, there were actually ten separate free gift/ promotion weeks from the comic if you count the comics initial launch with free gifts. That initial launch, isn’t technically a `revamp` though, hence my stating nine.

Finally, there is an appendix section which lists the `adventure & fun` strips in table form an in depth look at the nine `promotions` the comic undertook, and a personal guide to anyone interested in collecting old issues of the comic.

As this is also a subjective article I have voiced my opinions, which may appear to some readers perhaps rather strongly about certain `strips` in the comic. These views that I proffer concern I felt was an utter naivety regarding the portrayal of ethnic races along with my views on other issues raised. Hence the `Pause For Thought!  spots that appear throughout the file, as well as my views in the main text.

But! These are just my personal views and just because I like or dislike a strip it doesn’t mean said strip `is` actually good or bad, except to me. As far as subjective taste goes I happily accept that other people’s views, even vastly differing ones, on said strips merits are just as viable and every bit as relevant as mine. Hopefully, these `opinions` that I venture won’t mar readers enjoyment of the data provided –too much.

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  (3)       `SPARKY`( The `Forgotten` comic).

Now, almost forgotten, apart from those devout fans such as members of the `Comics U.K board (like myself) `Sparky comic, when remembered, is thought of as the `odd-man-out` in the stable of D.C Thomson `fun` comics. The comic had a style rather unique amongst the `Thomson` family of titles aimed at the pre teen’s reader.

The comic had a different visual look to its strips as many of the artists had not worked on those sisters `fun` papers. The first Editor was Willie (Bill) Mann who had previously helmed `Victor` comic. Sparky comic in its early years carried strips that featured surrealistic themes not seen in the other Thomson stable of comics. There was also a high preponderance of animal themed adventure strips in the first two and a half years of its life. On the whole, it seemed to be aiming at a slightly younger audience (to 1969) than companion papers, `Dandy`, `Beano`, `Topper` or `Beezer`, but a bit older than the` Bimbo` comic  readership.

Many commentators and fans of the comic give the view that it had a sort of `Alice in Wonderland` surrealistic whimsical feel to its early years (1965 to 1967). I would tacitly agree to this viewpoint as the comic certainly seemed to be very out of touch with the era it appeared-the mid 1960s. Certainly by 1967, `Sparky` comic seemed more `old fashioned` than even sister titles `Dandy` `Beano` `Topper` and `Beezer` let alone rival companies titles such as `T.V 21` `Wham` `Pow` and `Smash`.

Content: the comic was composed of a mixture of `fun` and `adventure` strips. The `fun` strips which were mostly one page offerings (though there were sometimes two page ones) that were more simply drawn (in comparison with the `adventure strips). The `adventure` strips which were drawn to a higher degree of artwork were almost always two page efforts. The comic also ran two prose/ text (with some illustrations) strips for its first few months.

One aspect of the comic that I never spotted in 1965 but which my Mom pointed out to me was it’s feature of several old `fun` characters and `adventure` strips, albeit in updated format. It was a feature of the comic, reusing old characters from other Thomson titles even as late as the 1969 reshuffle. Only by the 1970’s was the usage of old characters discontinued. Yes! Sparky comic very much became a receptacle for old `fun pals` etc to be revived.

Sparky comic was the last of the D. C Thomson big five fun titles to appear on 16th (though cover date was the 23rd) January 1965; and the first to founder on 16th July 1977. Its twelve year life seems to be poorly recalled by many U.K comics’ aficionados, one example being Graham Kibble White who has sadly got virtually all his factual data incorrect concerning Sparky in the small chapter on it in his book. The `Sparky File` hopefully, will try to do a little better than that.

Anyhow, that’s enough introductions, now on with the show!

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1965. The new comic is launched. `Hungry Horace` `Keyhole Kate` Dreamy Dave & Dozy Dora` The Moonsters` Etc!

Sparky No 1 entered the market on Friday 16th January 1965. The cover date was 23rd January; but all U.K comics were dated a week ahead of publication. These `week ahead` dates were for newsagents to know when to take unsold issues (when the date arrived) off the shelves and return them to D.C Thomson for pulping.

Sadly, the date of Sparky comic’s first issue turned out to be one of the worst cases of bad timing in a commercial sense. Why? Well, also coming on sale the very same day was City Publications title “T,V 21” It was rather like the Monkees pop group releasing their “Headquarters” LP at the same time as Beatles “Sgt Pepper”. Sparky comic was quite overshadowed by the flashier TV 21 and this inauspicious start did not auger well for its sales.

As well as television advertisements, D.C Thomson also sent out card displays and publicity `fliers` and `solicitation` sheets for newsagents to display, advertising the new comic. Another aid to Sparky’s entry into the marketplace was fellow Thomson titles, `Dandy` and `Beano` issues of 9th January 1965, both carrying four page `pink flier` inserts that advertised the new Sparky comic. I had the Dandy one at the time and have recently bought (on E.Bay) the Beano edition with `pink flier`.

As stated, `both` comics (Sparky and TV 21) had been advertised just after New Year’s Day 1965 on the telly. The Sparky ad showed scenes of youngsters playing with the free gift, the “Flying Snorter”. This was a yellow balloon with a flattened red coloured air hole which let the air out in sort of controlled way to give a rasping sound! You blew it up, and let if go, and there it went, rasping away till all the air inside was depleted. Sparky No2 gave away the `Big Banger` and No3 the `Red Racketty`.

I was only allowed one of either `Sparky` or `TV 21` and though I was a big fan of `Stingray` and `Fireball XL5` etc, I chose `Sparky` (I bet I was in the minority there!) My Mom bought me the new comic (I was nine years of age in early 1965) The “Snorter” was great fun indeed! Wish I’d kept it. Anyhow, this was the start of a long and happy association for me with Sparky comic. In fact, I had purchased (and later bought myself) all but four Sparky’s (and kept them) to about June / July 1971. Oh! How I wish I’d hung on to them to this day as it would have saved me much money in recollecting them in the past two years.

At a cost of 5d (old pence) it was 2d dearer than Dandy or Beano; but it had a page content of 24 pages instead of 16 as with Dandy, Beano or the A3 sized Topper and Beezer (they were 5d in mid 1960s prices too). Unlike Dandy and Beano, who increased their price (to 4d) in 1968, Sparky stayed at 5d right up to issue 281, 1st August 1970 when it increased to 6d. Friday was the day Sparky came out and it stayed Friday until late 1969.

The comic was aimed at a slightly younger readership than Dandy or Beano for the first three or so years of its life. Sparky comic never enjoyed the sales of Dandy or Beano; in fact Topper and Beezer seemed to better it here as well. The comic seemed to be the `oddball` of the Thomson output and really struggled to find an identity or a loyal readership.

As I said in the introductory chapter, I didn’t know Sparky had updated many old `fun pals` and conceived new adventures using old characters! My Mom wasn’t pleased with the content, but I begged her to please continue buying it as I was quite happy with it.

By 1967 I was buying the comic (and Dandy, Pow & Smash) with my pocket money. Friday’s was Sparky day and after school, I would have my tea, then I would change out of my school clothes and dash to my local newsagents (With my street clothes on of course) for my Sparky.
The covers (first & last pages) and the middle ones were always in full colour.
Pages 2, 11, 14 and 23 were always a mix of Red, Black and White. All other pages were in monochrome.

The `Sparky` Logo was curved similar to the `Dandy`. Colours of Logo were the same as Dandy too. The word Sparky was in bright red on a yellow surround. This was complimented by a royal blue background which made it an identical colour scheme to the Dandy.
My early favourites were “Flubberface” (the friendly monster), “Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora” (whose dreams led to wonderfully surreal adventures). I also liked the “Jeff Ye Jolly Jester” strip too! In all, I thoroughly enjoyed my Sparky comic each Friday. After reading, I would store my Sparky along with my Dandy’s and other comics in my wall set clothes store. No sunlight got in, so they were in superb condition.

Along with its contents of some new strips, the comic was certainly a repository for many old Beano, Dandy (and other comics) veteran characters such as `Pansy Potter`, `Keyhole Kate`, `Ma Jolly and her Brolly`, `Hungry Horace`, `Freddie the Fearless Fly`, `Frosty McNab`, `Black Jack the Sweep`, `Stone age Steve`, `Dick Turpentine`, `Peter Piper`, `Hairy Dan` etc. Some of these strips even in early 1965 seemed very old fashioned to me even though they were `updated` versions.  The worst  of these (in my view) were `Dick Turpentine` and `Hairy Dan` who were drawn by Basil Blackaller and `Stone Age Steve` by Robert MacGillivray; I am afraid that I never took to their style of work in 1965 and viewing today their style of art, I’m afraid it looks so primitive to my eyes.

Titular cover star `Sparky` was a black skinned youngster, who though living in Britain was bizarrely dressed as though he were a tribesman in central Africa! He also sported strange antennae like protuberance on his head, which no one to this day can truly discern what on earth it is. In his first adventure (issue No 1) which for just that issue he appeared on the back page; he spoke like the characters in the 1937-44 Dandy strip `Bamboo Town`. For 1965 this was incredibly crass and extremely insensitive. Thankfully `Sparky’s` speech was modified from issue 2 and

thereafter. Had he still spoken in that idiom by 1968 the comic would have surely been in deep trouble.

Sparky was initially drawn by Ron Spencer for just a dozen issues, then for the remainder of his tenure to January 25th 1969 (issue 210) by Jimmy Glenn.

Seemingly, he lived alone, with no other family members ever appearing in the strip the four plus years that he was in the comic. Early on he was portrayed as a boisterous youngster who got up to the usual mischief that youngsters of his age group would participate in. However, by 1966 Sparky was changed in style in that he was both drawn a little more adult in appearance and `matured` somewhat in his behaviour. Though this was a responsible move in giving role models to readers, it did rather make Sparky a pretty boring character circa 1966 to 1969.

Pause For Thought Spot.

The `Sparky` character has probably been one of the more `controversial` cover stars of a comic as seen from today’s viewpoint. He has caused some debate in his years as both `cover` and back page star in the comic regarding his supposed race and colour. Only issue seven gave a hint to this in his treatment, but I can see why he is deemed Non P.C today. Speaking personally, I find two 1970s `L. Cars` episodes were far worse in this respect. The `Comics Britannia` series theorised that many staff at Thomson’s grew up in the era when Britain had an empire and celebrated `Empire Day` thus, many on the comic could not help in seeing foreigners as `inferior` to the British. I could; and do to some extent, understand this mind-set up to the mid 1960s; but by the 1970s I can see no excuses for comics still having such an ignorant outlook as I see it.       

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`Hungry Horace` and `Keyhole Kate` were drawn by George Drysdale who would sadly pass away in 1967. George also drew the `Me and my Grockle` strip in 1966/67.

`Hungry Horace` had first appeared back in the `Dandy` in the late 1930s. The premise was simple in that Horace was a lad with a tremendous appetite and his efforts and ploys to feed his ever voracious appetite was basically the theme of the strip. Of course, back in the 1930s children going hungry were something readers could readily identify with. In the 1960s and 70s version, Horace was just a very greedy young lad. Most of his adventures stemmed from ever unsuccessful attempts by his Mom and Dad to somehow curtail his gluttony. How the strip lasted to the comic’s finale beats me, but it did becoming the only strip (bar a few omissions-see Appendix 1) to last from first to final `Sparky` issue.

`Keyhole Kate`  who also began life back in the 1930s `Dandy` comic was out of date even back in 1965.  Back in the 1930s large keyholes that one could peer through were pretty common, but by the mid 1960s they were mostly replaced by the Yale lock. This meant that I could not understand how anyone could look
through keyholes of front doors as on the estate where I lived they all had Yale locks. That’s the only sort of keyholes there were, and I guess other 1960s children were similarly puzzled as to how Kate could peer through keyholes.

One aspect of Kate’s life also puzzled me greatly was that she lived with her Uncle, who was only known as “Uncle” in the strip and his son `Cuthbert`, Kate’s cousin. Where were her Mom and Dad? Maybe the answer lies in the origins of the strip back in the 1930s `Dandy` but I just don’t know.

Anyhow, Kate’s Uncle, and Cuthbert were forever trying to cure Kate of her peeping habit, with `Uncle` quite often giving Kate a dose of his cane. I didn’t find that part of the strip at all funny; thankfully by the 1970s Kate’s caning scenes were phased out. Another bizarre side to the strip which sometimes occurred when George Drysdale was drawing it was those certain occasions when Kate interacted
with the artist, often bemoaning her luck and demanding the artist drew better scenarios for her. These `instances` was a rare case of breaking the `fourth wall` in a comic strip which in my reading enjoyment rather ruined the strip for me when this happened.

With what I saw as a pretty confined and unlikely premise for a strip I am similarly amazed the `Keyhole Kate` strip lasted as long as it did in the comic.

Another `reborn` character was `Freddy the Fearless Fly` who too had first appeared in the 1930s `Dandy`. In the `Sparky` revival he was drawn superbly by
Albert Holroyd. Freddie’s adventures saw him evading his enemy `Snider the Spider` and fellows like `Melvin the Mosquito` and `Harry Horsefly` Freddie only lasted into 1966.

Thankfully, some new strips such as `Flubberface` and the `Moonsters` were also included. The wonderfully surreal `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` which occupied the middle two pages (in colour) was perhaps the best of the early strips. `Flubberface` and `Jeff Ye Jolly Jester` were drawn by Bob Webster. He would also draw strips `The Slowdown Express`, `Fireman Fred` and from 1966, the Pansy Potter` strip, taking over from Bill Hill who had drawn her from 1965.

`Flubberface` I think was based on a short lived 1938 `Dandy` fun strip called `Flippy the Sea Serpent`. `Flubberface` though only lived in a lake (though he could visit the coast as well) he was about 40 foot long and most friendly indeed! He did try to keep himself out of sight from adults, but happily aided any young children, or other persons, if they were in any sort of trouble. Though I never noticed it at the time, the strip did make some very poignant ecological points when humans would sometimes `pollute` Flubberface’s environment. In that sense, it was a most forward looking strip.

`Frosty McNab`, (an old Beano character)`Black Jack`, and `Stone Age Steve` all vanished by issue eight, `Dick Turpentine` last rode out in issue 12,  `Ma Jolly` (an old Dandy character) ended at issue 17 and `Hairy Dan` (also an old Beano strip) to issue 29. In my estimation, these strips were not very interesting; though I do recall enjoying the `Dick Turpentine` effort quite a bit.

“Joe Bann and his Big Banjo” as drawn by Bob Webster, was the wild west adventures of, Joe Bann and his horse, who he called “Hoss” back in the days of the old west. Joe was an amiable fellow who carried a large banjo as he liked a bit of music. Joe’s banjo was of great help to him on those all too frequent
occasions when he encountered, `rustlers` `hustlers` `bushwhackers`, hostile red Indians (or “Injuns” as Joe called them) plus the odd wild animal, cougars, bull’s etc. Yes! Joe’s banjo had a multiple of uses, some of which were actually pretty unbelievable really. I can’t say I really rate it too highly, but it wasn’t too bad a strip in my estimation, just not very memorable.

“Jeff Ye Jolly Jester” who I think was also drawn by Bob Webster, lived in medieval times in a society that somehow acquired television, helicopters, cars etc!  It was very daft, but enjoyable. Jeff was a quick witted fellow who dealt with crooks, witches, bullies by using his wits.

The comic had a letters page titled “Write to Sparky” and also a puzzles and conundrums page.

The first two years plus of the comics life saw the unusual mode of `strip rotation` which meant that fun strips such as `Flubberface` `Minnie Ha-Ha`,`Joe Bann` `Freddie the Fearless Fly` `Hockey Hannah` and `Jeff Ye Jolly Jester` were taking turns to appear. No wonder the comic struggled early on as it was difficult to get readership identification with characters if they didn’t appear every week! In fact, this bizarre practice was still in operation in late 1967-early 1968, rotating the `Pansy Potter` and `Tom Tardy` strips.

The only fun strips not put into rotation were `Sparky`, `Winnie the Witch`,`The Moonsters`, `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora`, `Hungry Horace` `Cuckoo in the Clock` and `Keyhole Kate`; These were the only regular continuing weekly fun strips in the comics early years.

New fun strip, `The Moonsters` began in issue No2. Readers get to see that Penny and Peter Pleasant are about to land on the Moon. The reason for this strange state of affairs was that Peter had pressed a button when they were visiting an exhibition of space rockets; this one being seemingly full of fuel and able to fly and land itself safely on the lunar surface. If only the USA knew of such a British rocket!

Anyhow, Penny and Peter were greeted by the very friendly green skinned `Moonsters` once they disembarked and settled down to a fun filled life on the Moon.

The `Moonsters` strip was in the style of the early  Beano comic fun strip, the `Bash St Kids` when that strip was titled `When the Bell Rings` circa 1954. Similar to the `Bell Rings` strip, the Moonsters had one or two (sometimes none) small panels leading to one large panel featuring several of the Moonsters trying vainly to achieve that weeks subject. It soon became obvious this Moon had oceans, forests, and many other similarities to Earth. Until the late 60s `space- race` this lack of scientific accuracy didn’t matter much. It was drawn by Bill Ritchie.

Other `fun` strips were `Minnie Ha-Ha, and Running Kick`, her pet talking Raven` the fun adventures of a young Red Indian squaw and her talkative pet. It is believed this strip was a French import with new English dialogue, though I can’t be certain of this.

Then there was `Cuckoo in the Clock` which, like `The Moonsters` began in issue No 2 and was drawn by one of two female artists on the comic, Laura Gold (Pamela Chapeau was the other on `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora`) This was about a wooden, but living clock cuckoo who would often leave his clock to get up to mischief. He lived with a family, Father, Mother and the two children. Cuckoo had two nemeses, the neighbour’s cat that often caused Cuckoo some hard times, and the children’s nasty cousin Cedric who Cuckoo always thwarted.

No one was supposed to know that Cuckoo was alive, though Mom did see him flying on one occasion. This was explained to her that she was obviously `seeing
things` as you do! Cuckoo also often had `run –in’s with real birds, and once, a live cuckoo laid an egg in his box to the families amazement! It was a lovely `fairy-tale` style strip which I enjoyed very much indeed.

There was `Hockey Hannah` The fun adventures of a schoolgirl and her hockey stick. It wasn’t a very inventive strip which centred on Hannah’s stick. Sometimes it was a help to her, other times it got her into trouble. It now looks very dull stuff indeed and I must admit that I barely recall it at all from when I first read it. The strip was drawn by Andy Tew.

One character who I do recall when making his debut in issue, No 3 was `Peter Piper`. The strip began with Peter taking a stroll in a park. Suddenly two bullies began picking on him (a regular hazard for `fun` characters). A nearby statue of Pan came to life and scared the bullies away (never?). Pan then gifted Peter his set of pipes. He told him they would bring any icon to life; be it statue, sculpture or any drawing if he blew the pipes at them. This done, Pan popped back on his plinth and became a statue once more (sans pipes). Only years later did I find out that Peter Piper was an old 1920s`Magic` comic character.  I am afraid I still haven’t discovered the identity of the first Sparky `Peter Piper` artist who penned the strip to early 1966.

Yet another old two characters updated were `Pansy Potter` the strongman’s daughter and `Nosey Parker` (both drawn by Bill Hill), an interfering old busybody. They often shared one page split between them.

`Nosey Parker` who first appeared in the 1920s in the `Rover` was forever sticking his nose into other peoples business to his own detriment. He never seemed to learn. One nasty aspect of this strip was when `Nosey` tried to do genuine good deeds, e.g., picking up litter, and suffered for his pains. Not a good concept to present to readers at all in my view. He departed after issue 29, 7th August 1965 for over a year till issue 83, 20th August 1966; but Pansy Potter stayed as one of the `rotated` strips to early 1966.

`Pansy Potter` who began life in the late 1930s in the Beano was strong due to being a strongman’s daughter-but, very oddly, in later episodes, she proved to be superhumanly strong whereas her dad was just moderately so! Pansy’s last
appearance before her `resurrection` in `Sparky` was in the 1960 Beano book, sporting her old `spiky top` hairstyle. For a few years, to August 1969, she sported a small `exclamation mark` style on her forehead before reverting back to her `spiked` look in mid 1969.

Now; here is an example of a very early `Sparky` line-up, in fact it is issue No1 itself!

                              SPARKY No 1. (23 January 1965, 5d)

Page 1
This displays it is the first issue along with a picture of the free gift inside, the `Flying Snorter`

Page 2
`Joe Bann and his Big Banjo` The comic adventures of Cowboy Joe Bann and his all-purpose Banjo! (This page in Red, Black & White)

Page 3
`Keyhole Kate` I had no idea, that Kate was an old character, now updated.

Pages 4 & 5
`The Young Castaways` This lovely adventure story concerned two babies from a shipwreck who were raised by friendly occupants of a South Seas island. Drawn by the artist (Tony Speer) who would later sketch Invisible Dick`.

Page 6
`Jeff Ye Jolly Jester ` The comic adventures of medieval Jester, Jeff.

Page 7
`Hockey Hannah` The comic adventures of a schoolgirl and her hockey stick. This is one strip I have virtually no recollection of at all!

Pages 8 &9
`Wee Tusky` Adventure strip, light hearted, which was about a young Elephant and his life in the jungle of south Asia. The Sparky comic had a real taste for animal based stories in its early years.

Page 10
`Hungry Horace` This was the only strip to be ever present from Sparky No 1, to 652 (final issue). At the time I had no idea he was an old Dandy character.

Page 11
Top half, `Free gift` next week, the `Big Bang`. Bottom half, “Write to Sparky” and win a transistor radio.

Pages 12 & 13
`Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` One of my favourites; I loved the early adventures which could get really surreal. Unlike later stories, the early ones did not often `

turn into nightmares. In their first adventure they stop a feud between the `thinnies` and the `fatties` by cooking a meal both can enjoy. (In full colour)

Page 14
`Minnie Ha-Ha, and `Running Kick` her Talking Raven` French import which displays the comic adventures of a young Red Indian Squaw, and her pet `talking` Raven; `Running Kick`. (In B/W & Red.)

Page 15
`Sparky’s Puzzles` As it says, a page full of puzzles. Maze, spot the difference, etc.

Pages 16 & 17
`The Kidnapped Kidds` A very strong (for 1965) story of two children who witness a train robbery and are subsequently held captive by the crooks. This was pretty gutsy stuff for Sparky! Gang leader Gus is not averse to physical violence to children or of holding his gun to their heads. I have no idea; but I would not be surprised if parents complained about this strip.

Pages 18, 19 and top half of 20,`The Palace of Secrets` This was a text story, along with a few illustrations, concerning the adventures of young Mary at the palace of Kra.  This story is definitely aimed at female readers.

Page 20 Bottom half
`Nosey Parker` Yet another old character revived, this time from 1920s `Rover` comic. `Nosey Parker` is a `busybody` who cannot leave things, or people alone. He nearly always gets the worse end of his actions. Unfortunately, on the odd occasion
Nosey tries to do genuine good, he also got clobbered. Not a good message to send out to young readers I say!

Page 21
`Flubberface` Here we have the adventures of a large, but friendly lake dwelling beast. This was one of my early favourites from the comic.

Page 22
`Freddy the Fearless Fly` Yet another rejuvenated old character put out to see if there was more life in. Again, I had no idea he was an old character until my Mother stated so. Freddie was drawn by Albert Holroyd who was a very gifted artist. This helped the strip a lot I think.

Page 23
Top third `Dick Turpentine` The hopeless highwayman.

Middle third `Stone Age Steve` The comic adventures of a caveman.

Bottom third `Hairy Dan` “Dan’s hairy chin will make you grin” crowed the caption; not me it didn’t! These three strips were drawn by artists who had been at Thomsons for many a long year; and goodness me, it showed. They were very dated strips in look indeed. Only the `Dick Turpentine` strip ever raised a chuckle with me. Page 23 was drawn in black, red and white).

Page 24

`Sparky` here we have the title character of the comic. Sparky was a young black boy living in the U.K but dressed as though still in darkest Africa! This first adventure saw Sparky delivering meats etc for a butcher. Amazingly, his dialogue was similar to the 1930s, 40s `Bamboo Town` strip with “Ma” instead of “My” and “Am” instead of “Is”. Thankfully, someone saw sense at the comic and this `cod` language was dropped after this outing. The strip would transfer to the cover page from next week.

The bottom two inches of page 24 saw a three picture preview of next week’s new `fun pals` `Pansy Potter`, `The Moonsters` and `Cuckoo in the Clock`. All page 24 in colour.

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A very varied comic indeed; I had no idea that some strips were updated adventures of old characters. The `Kidnapped Kidds` was very strong stuff for a `fun` comic. The text story was for girls only in my view which was rather narrow- minded of me back then. I looked forward to next Friday’s comic.

The `Young Castaways` strip is etched in my memory. It ran from the first issue to No 16, dated 8th May. The story featured on two babies who barely survived the sinking of the yacht their mother and father seemingly perished on. The babies were washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Akavu. They were found by the friendly natives who took care of them. The native leader, Queen Lemba, had worked as a nurse in Australia and had after some years had returned to the island she was born on.

The Queen taught the babies as they grew to children, English and gave them the names Mark and Marina. The youngsters believed their parents must be dead as did the Queen who looked after them as best as she could.

Mark and Mary had many adventures on the island. One day Mary was badly injured by a falling tree and though Lemba had some medical knowledge, she knew that a surgeon must operate on the child to save her. The island was often visited by a plane from nearby Australia and a message was relayed regarding Marina’s condition. A surgeon, Mr Maxwell, agreed to fly to the island.

Amazingly, the surgeon turned out to be the Childs father! Both he and their mother had survived and both had believed their children had drowned. It all ended happily with Mark and Marina finding out their real name was Charles and Mary Maxwell. The strip was drawn very ably by Tony Speer. He would later draw the very long running, and (to me) repetitive `Invisible Dick` strip.

Now; running from issue No 1 to No 15, 1st May 1965, was a story that was anything but `fey` or `twee` (to belie Graham Kibble’s claims). `The Kidnapped Kidds` saw two children John and Mary Kidd, witness a train robbery. They are caught by the husband and wife leaders of the gang, Gus and Betty.

Gus in particular is a very nasty piece of work. In episode seven he hits young John severely across the face. The tenth episode has the very harrowing sight of Gus walloping John with his trouser belt, a scene no fun comic today would dare
display. This was no `Dennis the Menace` type spanking, it was graphic child abuse! Gus also holds the gun to the children’s head on more than one occasion. The final time he did this in issue 15 when the police have them cornered, Betty comes to her senses and knocks his arm away and the children are then rescued.

It was a very hard hitting strip which was drawn by artist David Ogilvie who succeeded admirably in giving Gus a very cruel look indeed. Had this story been mooted for inclusion a few months later it may not have been accepted for publication due to the real life horrors of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

As it was, it still stands today as the most harrowing adventure strip in the comic’s history, in fact, this strip is probably the most `harrowing` piece ever in a `fun` comic. It really is a dark and shocking offering indeed! Nothing like it was ever attempted again and I think that maybe concerned parents wrote to the editor about the content and the fact of the `Moors Murders` hitting the headlines just after publication of the story must have given D.C Thomson pause for thought.

But now; let us take a look at the line up of issue No 2.

                        SPARKY No 2, (30 January 1965, 5d)

Page 1
 (Cover) Heading “Free Inside `Big Banger` (it was one of those `Crack-Bang` efforts which the brown paper always split after about three `bangs`.

Sparky clears the snow with his Vacuum cleaner, hitting a policeman with a burst of cleared snow. (Full Colour)

Page 2
`Joe Bann and his Big Banjo`.

Page 3
`Keyhole Kate. `

Pages 4 & 5
`The Young Castaways`

Page 6
`Cuckoo In The Clock` Comic adventures of a wooden, but living, Cuckoo. A beautifully weird premise this, with `Cuckoo` keeping the secret that he was alive from his owners.

Page 7
`Hockey Hannah`

Pages 8 & 9
`Wee Tuskey`

Page 10
`Hungry Horace. `

Page 11
Adverts for next weeks free gift, the `Red Racketty` and for a choice of Ten shilling postal order or a transistor radio if readers wrote to the comic and letter was published. B/W & Red.

Pages 12 & 13
Dreamy Dave and Dozy DoraThis issue sets Dave and Dora to rescue the children of Hamlin Town. In full colour.

Page 14.
`Minnie Ha-Ha`
 Page 15 `Sparky’s puzzles`

Pages 16 & 17
`The Kidnapped Kidds` The Kidds woes continue as they are still in the captivity of the cruel `Gus` and his gang.

Pages 18 & 19 and top half of 20, `The Palace of Secrets`.

Page 20, bottom half, the Editor and the rest of the Sparky staff introduce Pansy Potter to the readers, stating she will begin her adventures from next week’s issue. I think this was possibly the best of the `reactivated` old characters, especially once Bob Webster took over drawing the strip.

Page 21
`Jeff Ye Jolly Jester `.

Page 22
Freddie the Fearless Fly.

 Page 23
Top third, `Frosty McNab` A sort of `Jack Frost` character.

Middle third, `Grandma Jolly and her Brolly`

Bottom third, `Black-Jack` Chimney Sweep.  You could tell these were old characters because, though the stories were contemporary, they were drawn in 1940s style. Even to me then, they looked terribly old fashioned. It was a strange move by the staff and `Frosty` and `Black-Jack` departed very quickly. (Black, Red and White).

Page 24
`The Moonsters`. In issue No2 Penny and Peter Pleasant are about to land on the Moon. Peter had pressed a button while he and Sister Penny were exploring at the Rocket Ship exhibition (as you do). They land safely and are greeted by little green `Moonster` people who lay on a big feast for their Earth visitors. Note! One of the Moonsters has pointed `Spock-like` ears. This was not apparent in later adventures.

 The final three inches of page 24 consisted of adverts for next weeks new pal `Peter Piper`. Also, the comic asks “Have you written to Sparky Yet?”  All page 24 in full colour.

                       *                                 *                         

A possibly controversial (by today’s standards) front cover story was issue No 7 dated 6th March, Page 1. Cover star `Sparky` gets pushed into vats of coloured paint (for snooping) Police can’t scrub all the colours off, so they paint the rest of him with black paint!  If a comic did that storyline today, there is a chance they might get into serious trouble.

There certainly was a surfeit of animal based strips in the comics early years. Some were humorous such as `Wee Tusky` (young Burmese elephant), `Kipper feet` (young walrus) both drawn by Jack Monk, and `McGinty’s Goat` (regimental mascot) drawn by Bob Webster. Others were more serious in tone such as `Watch` who was a Newfoundland rescue dog, and `Rory` the horse of many masters. There were fifteen of these animal themed stories from the comics inception to September 1967, which is what I would term, a very bad case of `overkill`!

`Wee Tusky` (which was an old `Dandy` strip originally) ran from issue No 1 to No 22, 19th June 1965. It relayed the `fun` adventures of a young Burmese elephant. Wee Tusky had a higher I.Q than many humans if any of the `adventures` are to be believed!  At the conclusion of the first series, Tusky was captured by a hunter looking for animals for his circus. Tusky was replaced, in issue No 23 by `Kipper Feet` who had originated in the `Wizard` in the 1930s I believe. He was a young walrus, and it was basically the same style of nonsense. Both strips were drawn by the same artist, Jack Monk.

`Kipper Feet` left for good on issue No 34, 11th September, being replaced by another stint of `Wee Tusky`. This time the adventures of the small but highly intelligent pachyderm were set in Britain as Tusky travelled with his kindly owner’s circus. The second series of `Tusky` only lasted eight issues to No 42 dated 6th November 1965.

The far more serious minded strip `Watch` drawn by George Radcliffe which concerned the adventures of a Newfoundland rescue dog at a 19th Century fishing community, stands up far better today. It had many well executed storylines and is enjoyable to me on current reading. The family `Watch` stayed with were cousins of Lighthouse keeper Mr Darling and his daughter Grace. Some episodes featured brave sea rescues by Watch as the heavy storms wrecked shipping. It ran from issue No 16, 8th May, to No 35, 18th September 1965.

The comic also had a text strip `The Palace of Secrets` from its first issue to No 14, 24th April. It was most certainly aimed at girl readers. Briefly, it was set in the Middle Ages at a European court in a land called `Kravia`. The Queen was too shy to meet her subjects (as can happen!). Young gypsy girl, Mary is found to be a near identical double to the Queen and is persuaded to take her place until the Queen can conquer her fears.

Unknown to Queen and Mary, certain courtiers are set on assassinating the Queen which puts Mary’s life in danger as they do not know it is actually Mary they are targeting. It all ended happily with the villains foiled, the Queen regaining her confidence and Mary `adopted` by Queen and court, and falling in love.

Replacing this text story in issue No 15, 1st May 1965, was another text story `Will O` the Well`. This was a bizarre effort about a pixie like boy who lived at the bottom of a wishing well (and never got wet!); who granted wishes to whoever threw coins into the well and made a wish. Will spent all money `earned` on ice lollies.

Those wishing unselfishly on behalf of others fared best, while those wishing with selfish or cruel intentions got their wish; but in a manner that taught them a lesson. It was a very inventive series and an early favourite of mine. Will was certainly no ordinary boy, for example in one story when he was asked (by the local school teacher) if he should be at school. After assuring the man he `was` past leaving age Will reflected to himself ironically that if the teacher (Mr Gregg) knew that Will was over 100 years old it would astound him.

Will had magical powers to make events happen, to appear and disappear as he wished; and in one of the 1966 picture strip series, he could outrun a speeding car.
So, it’s no real surprise that his being able to live underwater would not be much of a problem for him!

I was sad to see the text stories of `Will` end at issue 25, 10th July as it helped my reading ability and made me use my imagination to great effect. `Will` did return in comic strip form from No 53, 22nd January 1966, but that wasn’t as successful as the text story as the text leant to the imagination being used. The cartoon version only lasted to issue 59, 5th March 1966, a mere seven issues.

Yet another comedy based animal strip was `McGinty the Goat` drawn by Bob Webster who also drew the `Joe Bann` fun strip. This strip was the fun adventures of a very aggressive Army regimental mascot.  It wins my nomination as possibly the worst animal styled story in the comic’s history. For me, it stays in my memory as it was just so poor: not just back in 1965 but even more so on viewing it today. It ran from issue No 17, 15th May, to issue 29, 7th August 1965, fifteen issues.

Now, let us take another look at a 1965 line up; this time from issue No 20.

                          SPARKY No 20, (5th June 1965, 5d)

Page 1
`Sparky` joins a brass band.

Page 2
`Joe Bann and his Big Banjo`

Page 3
`Keyhole Kate`
Pages 4 & 5
`Watch` The Victorian period adventures of a Newfoundland rescue dog and the fishing community he worked for. One of the more serious animal based stories in Sparky and quite a good effort indeed.

Page 6
`Hockey Hannah`

Page 7
`Freddie, the Fearless Fly`

Pages 8 & 9
`McGinty the Goat` The fun adventures of a regimental mascot. For me, this was one of the worst examples of how very poor many of the `fun` animal stories in the comic were.

Page 10
`Sparky’s Puzzles`

Page 11
`Cuckoo in the Clock`

Pages 12 & 13
`Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` This week the twins meet a king who never smiles.

Page 14
Top half, `Pansy Potter` Bottom half, `Nosey Parker`

Page 15
`Write to Sparky`

Pages 16 & 17
`Wee Tusky`

Pages 18, 19 & top 2/3 of page 20
`Will O’ the Well` Delightfully inventive text strip about a strange elf-like boy who lives in a well and grants wishes to whosoever throws coins into the well and makes a wish.

Page 20 Bottom 1/3
`Hairy Dan` Another updated old character. Unbelievably old-fashioned stuff.

Page 21
`Hungry Horace`
Page 22
`Jeff Ye Jolly Jester`

Page 23
`Minnie-Ha-Ha! And her talking Raven`

Page 24
`The Moonsters`

                                        *                             *
The comic also gave readers two sci-fi, alien invasion adventures in 1965. The first titled `Raiders from the Red Planet` was rather something of a `blink and you’ll miss it` affair commencing in issue 30 (14 August 1965) to issue 34 (11 September) lasting just five episodes. It was in black and white and drawn by the artist who drew the current (1965) `Peter Piper` strip. The `Martians` themselves, looked identical to humans in every way (except for their space suits).

The story started by stating that the planet Mars had veered in its orbit and it was now close enough to Earth that it could  be seen with the naked eye during daylight hours (A scientific nonsense as Mars could never get anywhere as close to Earth in natural terms). Soon, saucers from Mars arrived on Earth, in particular the stretch of England where the story was set (what about invading the rest of the planet?) The occupants of the craft were shown to be none too friendly indeed.

These Martians were armed with `gas` guns that could immobilise. They also set up parabolic shaped devices that operated as `heat` rays. Thankfully for the human race, the Martians were susceptible to the common cold, so that as in “The War of the Worlds”; mankind’s saviour was a microbe. The story, though
interesting to some extent, was sadly, very rushed, not too well drawn (in my opinion) and made no real sense at all when given some thought by the reader. It was nice that the comic tried this style of story, but this short-lived effort was rather a failure in my opinion. There would very soon be a second `sci-fi invasion` strip; one which would last rather longer and in quality terms, of more depth.

In issue 35 (11 September 1965) the far better `The Year of the Vanaks` appeared in colour on the middle pages (bumping Dreamy Dave and Dora to black and white).

The strip looked like it could be a reprint from an earlier Thomson comic as it has a 1950s look to it. It was though, I am informed a current production.

The story rather surprisingly opens with Earth already invaded by the aliens; these called `Vanaks`. Readers were told that a new planet called `Vana` had been discovered by astronomers and soon a Russian manned space shot was sent to investigate. Once on the planet no more was heard from the Russian team. Then, very quickly and before nuclear weapons could be utilised, the Earth- or most of it- was invaded by creatures from Vana in their space crafts. Why the whole planet was never conquered (the Vanaks could easily have achieved this given the weapons they possessed) was never made clear to readers which was a bad error I thought.

There were three different classes of Vanak creatures. The humanoid types were small (about four foot) fellows who were bright purple and possessed large bulbous (and bald) heads with pointed ears. Their robotic counterparts were cylinder like creations, also around four feet in height. These were red, blue or black depending on rank. Some of the cylindrical fellows had the facility to hover above the ground. The third, rarely seen Vanaks were large cumbersome humanoid shaped Robot
types, crimson in colour. These `third` Vanak types were the very highest ranking of their kind and only appeared when ever a `crisis` occurred.

The Vanaks were armed with weapons that fired either green paralyzing rays or red death beams. The strip never disclosed whether they possessed heavier weapons. As stated, they occupied large tracts of the planet, but seemed to concentrate most of their forces in the U.K!

The world seemed enslaved; however, a resistance movement gathered itself together and slowly the Vanaks weaknesses were uncovered. They could be immobilised themselves if their green rays were transmitted at a slightly higher frequency. This was achieved by humanity by turning a Vanak world link-up television broadcast against them.

Earlier, it had been discovered that the aliens were very susceptible to wasp stings, dying in seconds on receiving stings. The humans then concocted formic acid devices (Wasp stings are basically formic acid) to use against them. Rather unnecessarily, a fatal Vanak susceptibility to shrill whistles was also added to the mixture which really did stretch credibility just a bit too far. Despite such flaws it was still an entertaining strip which ran to issue 56 (12 February 1966).

Issue No 25, July 10th 1965 saw the addition to the comic of `fun` strips Winnie the Witch` and `The Slowdown Express` `Winnie` became a weekly regular while  `Slowdown` went into the rota system after issue 65 in 1966. There was also a new `adventure` strip that issue too, `Riddle of the Roughlands`.  Issue 25 was the only occasion that more than two new strips were introduced (this case, three) outside of `free gift overhauls`.

The `Slowdown Express` fun strip, drawn by Bob Webster was a bit of an anachronism in that it was strange that the comic run a strip about a steam train service just as they were ending in real life. It was a frantic affair which featured the most accident prone train and crew in railway history; had it ever been privatised, they would have gone bankrupt in a week.

`Winnie the Witch` featured the fun adventures of a novice witch. Sometimes Winnie would play mischievous tricks on humans, which mostly backfired on her due to her inability to control her `magic` properly. The same result applied when she tried to be helpful! Winnie would often fall foul of her boss, titled the Chief Witch in her adventures. Sadly, the artwork on this strip wasn’t very eye catching to me at all.

As mentioned earlier, issue No 25 dated 10th July 1965 also saw the debut of the Enid Blyton styled `Riddle of the Roughlands`. This story featured youngsters Frank and Pat Freeman who encounter smugglers while on holiday on a area called the `Roughlands`.

They also encounter a young lady that they think is part of the gang, but it turns out that she is an undercover policewoman who later rescues the children and their dog `Nip` after they are caught and tied up by the gang of smugglers. With her help, the villains are captured in issue No 34, 11th September. It was quite

enjoyable fare which would very much appeal to younger readers. The strip was very ably drawn indeed; sadly, I don’t know the identity of the artist involved.

The following week of 17th July, issue 26, there commenced an adventure strip that mixed education with adventure. `Lonely Wood` featured youngsters Dick and Cherry Grainger who helped their father who was a warden for a nature reserve called `Lonely Wood`.

The strip often gave many interesting details on wildlife and flora and fauna of the region. I learned many interesting facets of the natural woodland from this strip. It was actually a three page strip except for the final episode of the first series, which marks it as unique in Sparky comic `adventure` strips which were two page affairs except for when the odd three page episode popped up in some of these. The only other strip to have a constant three page run similar to this was the `fun` strip `I. Spy` which enjoyed a continuous three page run through 1970-71.

The `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` fun strip which inhabited the two centre colour pages through September 1965 produced some of the best and innovative
surreal stories I have ever seen in any comic.  Many of the early and most surrealistic stories were drawn by Pam Chapau. As with the characters in the
1935 film “Peter Ibbotson” Dave and Dora` would always experience each others dreams. An example of how inventive this format could be is the example from issue No 30 (14th August 1965) 

Dave and Dora are in their beds trying to sleep, but they just cannot nod off. They imagine sheep, and lo and behold a flock of sheep appear in their bedroom. They have to imagine up a shepherd to remove the sheep. They realise that whatever they think of will appear so they think up an elephant.

It fills their bedroom so they `think` it smaller and then into a porcelain figure. Enjoying this power of thought, they then think themselves onto the seaside. However! All the people on the beach laugh at them as they are still in their pyjamas.

Upset at this derision Dave and Dora think everyone away. Now finding themselves alone on the beach they don’t care for it and Dora wonders if it will rain. It then does to Dave’s chagrin. Dave wishes they were back in their beds and so they are-but! They are both in their beds on the beach with rain falling on them. Before anything else happens they are being woken up by their Mother who tells them it is time for school. Dave and Dora realise they had been dreaming about `not` being able to sleep all along.

Other themes in the strip were trips by rocket to the centre of the earth. Adventures at the end of a rainbow, trip in a time machine. Visits to the places where time and weather are made. There were also trips to a reverse `Topsy-Turvey` world, to the land of lost children and other strange dimensions. Another bizarre adventure from 1966, saw Dave and Dora travel to the Sparky office, meeting many fellow comic characters on the way, to help `Sparky` himself in preparing next weeks comic; delightful!

Sometimes Dave and Dora realised that they were dreaming and would actually control the dream their selves. On a couple of occasions they found themselves actually part of another characters dream which was rather bizarre. One truly surreal adaptation of dreams within dreams was a 1967 adventure where both Dave and Dora were given the task of entertaining an audience of uninvited people to their house with varied dreams as entertainment similar to a cinema show. This acknowledgment of them knowingly dreaming within a dream was a very cerebral turn for the strip to take-but it stands the test of time superbly.

Storylines such as these made this strip a truly captivating read and one of the early successes from Sparky comic. I loved the more surrealistic plots very much indeed. Other artists took turns in drawing the strip in rotating order through 1966 to 68; these were James Malcolm, George Ramsbottom, Ian Makay, Ian Judge and more entries from Pam Chapau.

Despite serving up such interesting offerings (to me at least!) the comic was struggling sales wise. By late 1965 sales were obviously sluggish so the first of
many promotions for the comic took place. Thomson’s paid for some television advertising and sent out solicitation leaflets and display cards to newsagents to publicize this, the first of nine free gift promotions by the comic, 1965 to 1974.  
There were also `pink fliers` in the `Dandy` and `Beano` comics as well as one in Sparky issue No 34 highlighting the promotion.

This first revamp would turn out to be pretty comprehensive, it was the third largest overhaul in the comic’s history (only the 1967 and 1969 changes would be more extensive) changing five `adventure` strips, four in issue 35, the other in No 36.  

                            SPARKY No 35 (18 September 1965, 5d)

This issue saw something of quite a hefty `re-vamp` to the comic. Issue 35 also gave the first Logo change. It was the colour red in the word Sparky, which now changed place with the yellow surround. Hence, Sparky in yellow on a red surround. The blue background stayed the same though. The `Sparky` character strip and `The Moonsters` swapped front and back cover places from this issue up to issue 140.

The comic gave away a free gift; the `Squeezy Wheezy` balloon.

Page 1
`The Moonsters`. They swapped places with the `Sparky` character, who now took over the back page. The Moonsters decide to make a film.

Page 2
`Keyhole Kate`

Page 3
`Peter Piper`

Pages 4 & 5
`New Story`. `Gilpin, the Lost, Lost Boy`. A strange offering this! Set in the 16th century, it concerned the adventures of a `sprite` (Gilpin) who had a spell placed upon him (by whom it was never revealed) that compelled him to become the servant of the first mortal he met. Gilpin looked human except for his large eyes. He possessed some magical powers to help him in his tasks. He finally achieved his aims and was no longer `lost` which is more than can be said for many a puzzled young reader of this strip.

Page 6
`Hungry Horace`

Page 7
`Winnie the Witch`

Pages 8 & 9
`Wee Tusky`

Page 10
`Write To Sparky`

Page 11
Top two thirds are an advert for next week’s free gift, the `Spin Din` (illustrated). The bottom third of the page showcases both this weeks new stories `The Year of the Vanaks` and `Gilpin, the lost boy`, with a panel from next weeks adventures in both.

Pages 12 & 13
 `New story`, `The Year of the Vanaks`. This was another space invasion, but in a much more serious mode.  In full colour, we see an advance guard of crimson robots who prepare the earth populace for the arrival of their masters; the Vanaks. These turn out to be about four foot tall with large bulbous heads. They are bright purple in colour.

Page 14
`Cuckoo in the Clock`

Page 15
`Sparky’s Puzzles`

Pages 16 & 17
`Watch` This was the final episode.

Pages 18 & 19
`New story`, `The Flood that Mother remembers`. This story featured a coastguard and his family who were stationed in Southampton in 1953. I think it was loosely based on the true story of the great flooding of 1953.

Pages 20 & 21

`Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` The pair find themselves in `Topsy-Turvey` land. For the first time, the strip was moved away from the centre pages and was now illustrated in black and white.

Page 22
`Freddy the Fearless Fly` Bottom of the page “Next week; Jeff Ye Jolly Jester”.

Page 23
` The Slowdown Express`

Page 24
Top three quarters, `Sparky` Who was now on the back page. Bottom quarter of the page was devoted to illustrated advert for next weeks new story `Floating Along, Singing a Song`. The adventures of a musical family; who live on a canal barge.

                      *                                   *

Issue 35 was the first in a series of `re-vamps` for the comic through the sixties. It probably gave away more free gifts 1965 to 1974 than any other Thompson comic in this period. My guess for this move was due to none too healthy sales. Here is a list of new strip and those replaced over weeks of 18th and 25th September 1965. All were adventure strips, no change in `fun pals`.

    New Strips Introduced, issues 35 & 36, September 18th & 25th 1965.


`Gilpin, the Lost, Lost Boy` (2 Pages)

`The Year of the Vanaks` (2 Pages)

`The Flood That Mother Remembers` (2 Pages)

`Floating Along, Singing A Song` (2 Pages)

`Wee Tusky`* (2 Pages) * = Returning Strip.


`Lonely Wood` (2 Pages)

`Kipper Feet` (2 Pages)

`Raiders from the Red Planet` (2 Pages)

`Watch` (2 Pages)

`Riddle of the Roughlands` (2 Pages)
There were five new `adventure` strips over issues 35 and 36, these were `Year of the Vanaks` `Wee Tusky` who came back on his second run in Sparky. `The Flood that Mother Remembers` and `Gilpin the Lost, Lost Boy` in issue No 35 and finally, `Floating Along, Singing a Song` in issue No 36.

The `Gilpin the Lost, Lost Boy` strip which began in issue No 35 was a pretty surreal affair indeed. Readers were introduced to Gilpin as he addressed out loud; or maybe to said readers, bemoaning his plight. It transpired that a spell had been cast upon him (Bizarrely, readers never found out just who did `enchant` Gilpin) so that he must be the servant of the first human he encountered. This was a pretty bizarre way to introduce a story indeed. Gilpin was what was known as a `sprite`, an elf-like creature, but not of the water variety.

He encountered Henry Cranstoun and insisted he become Cranstoun’s servant. The power in his eyes made Cranstoun accede to this. Gilpin’s task was to bring about a marriage between Cranstoun and young lady Mary Scott. The Cranstoun and Scott families had been at war for years and only such a marriage could bring about peace.

A major problem for Gilpin was Mary’s mother, Lady Janet Scott. She was a witch who could read Gilpins thoughts. She was against any peace between the families as the war suited her purpose. It ran to issue 49, 25th December, when
Gilpin eventually worked things to a happy resolution therefore freeing releasing him from the spell he had lain under. It was a rather difficult story to follow reading it recently so goodness knows if children could make sense of it back in 1965; I very much doubt it.

`The Flood That Mother Remembers` which also commenced in issue 35; was loosely based on the real life flooding  of the east coast, especially Lincolnshire, that had followed the great storm of 31st January to 1st February 1953. The strip followed the fortunes of Bobby and Mandy Jackson whose father had just been assigned coastguard duties at Bellford in Lincolnshire. The story also mixed in a smuggling theme to liven things up a bit which was very necessary in my view as I’m afraid that it comes over as a very dull affair in all. It was drawn by Tony Speer and concluded in issue 47, 11th December 1965.

As previously mentioned, “The Year of the Vanaks” was also part of the new intake along with a second series of the comedy adventures of young Burmese Elephant “Wee Tusky”. Tusky was now part of a circus touring Britain. This gave a new slant on his adventures as he coped with life in a new environment.  As stated earlier this second season only ran for eight issues to No 42.

Issue 36 brought the strip `Floating Along, Singing a Song` to readers. It concerned a family who travelled the country on the `Nancy Lee` canal barge. The children formed themselves into an amateur pop group who entertained towns and villages they stopped at. They were followed by two mysterious characters that seemed like villains. The `villains` turned out to be friendly and informed the children that one of them was actually heir to a Dukedom! To me, it was most unlikely fare, but enjoyable; it was drawn by Edward Drury and also finished in issue 47.

This strip is unique in one sense as it was the only `serious` themed adventure strip to also feature in a `Sparky Book`. Comedy themed adventure strips such as `Klanky` and `Invisible Dick` featured in the Sparky books, but no seriously mode strips ever did apart from `Floating Along, Singing A Song` which did; but bizarrely under the title of `The Canal Kids` which was the name of the pop group the kids titled themselves. The strip appeared in the first ever `Sparky Book in September 1966, titled the `1967` book`.

Issue No 43, 13th November brought us `The Downside Donkeys` which concerned a donkey reserve owned by the father of Mick and Cathy Murphy. Two silver donkeys they had purchased were wanted by foreign crooks, which was the base of the story.  I’m afraid that it came across as rather dull stuff to me. Tony Speer took artistic duties on this one. This story lasted to issue 52, 15th January 1966.

In the 18th December issue, No 48, yet another animal based story commenced. It was titled `Goldie` and concerned a golden eagle who became a pet of sorts to children, Steve and Betty Martin. The idea for the Goldie strip had obviously originated from the news story of the London Zoo golden eagle called `Goldie` (Of course!) who had escaped on 28th February 1965 and was on the loose for 12 days before he was recaptured. The strip ran to issue No 61, 19th March 1966 and yet again I found this another poor effort; in fact for me, it was utterly tedious. Yet again Tony Speer helmed the pens and pencils.

Also in issue 48 was `Lost Children of the Forest` which was set during the Second World War in bomb strewn England. Linda and Barry wrights London home is
destroyed by a bomb and they believe their parents were killed in the blast. The homeless children team up with fellow orphans Peter, Robin and Sue Miles.

All try to survive in the New Forest region but find it very tough going. Salvation comes when they discover their parents had indeed survived the blast. They and their new friends make a new life away from London. Quite an engrossing tale that was brave enough to tackle social issues of the period it was set in. It lasted to issue No 55, 5th February 1966.

Unfortunately for `Sparky`1965 wasn’t quite the roaring success that had been hoped for with sales obviously rather sluggish. This led to the tried and tested method of a fairly comprehensive overhaul with free gifts (In September) to try and arrest this parlous situation for the new comic.

Of the first year  `fun` strips, I certainly felt the `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` middle pages entry was easily the best of the 1965 `fun` strips with `Flubberface` another I very much liked.

From the `adventure` strips, `The Kidnapped Kidds` was easily the most dramatic, and `The Young Castaways` the most memorable. Text strip, `Will O’ the Well` was very inventive and surreal. Sadly, the `comedy` animal based strips were poor fare to me.

The new comic had survived its first year though and entered 1966, hoping for better sales. It was to be a tough struggle though!

                                   *                      *

EVENTS OF 1965!                     

Yes! What else was happening in 1965, the year that `Sparky` comic entered the market place?

In the world of politics, 1965 saw the death of Winston Churchill and the suspension, for a trial period of five years, of the death penalty. The Vietnam War began to escalate greatly in 1965. Rhodesia declared unilateral independence thereby incurring the UK Government’s imposition of sanctions, which were easily circumvented. In the US President Johnson forced through his bill of `Civil Rights` which outlawed segregation in the Southern States.

In sport, the football league division one champions were Manchester United who won the title on goal average from newly promoted Leeds United. F.A cup winners were Liverpool who beats Leeds 2-1 after extra time in a truly dull match.

Grand Prix champion was Jim Clark (for the second time) who also became the first non US competitor in over 50 years to win the Indianapolis 500.

Music: and the Beatles were awarded M.B.E’s. They only scored the third largest selling single though in 1965 (they had scored biggest selling singles in 1963 & 1964) with “We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper” even though it went over 1.200.000. Beating it to second highest UK selling single of 1965 with 1.300.000 was “The Carnival Is Over” by the Seekers (The only other UK million selling group song apart from the Beatles the full decade!)

Amazingly, the year’s best selling UK single was a revival of a 1929 Rudy Valee song titled “Tears” by Liverpool comedian, Ken Dodd. His version sold over 1.500.000 by years end (and 1.600.000 by August 1966).

Top selling UK LP was actually a late 1964 release, “Beatles For Sale” closely followed by the groups “Help” LP in August 1965.

The Rolling Stones scored top selling US single with “Satisfaction” Top selling US LP of 1965 was the `Mary Poppins` soundtrack.

Though the `Merseybeat` boom had died down, it was still an exiting year musically with such acts as The Who, Seekers, Yardbirds breaking through in 1965. US Folk star Bob Dylan made his first tour of the UK which caused controversy when he changed to amplified instrumentation.  The British supposed `Dylan clone` (which he soon proved he was no such thing) Donovan also came to prominence in 1965. He would actually surpass Bob Dylan in the US singles market during 1966-67.

The Beatles released their second feature film “Help” in 1965. Though it was a commercial success, neither the group themselves or many critics felt that it matched up to their 1964 debut, “A Hard day’s Night”.

Films and the most notable of 1965 were “The Sound of Music” and the 1965 entry in the James Bond franchise, “Thunderball”

On television, “Stingray” and “The Avengers” (now with Diana Rigg) were great success’  Childrens television produced a remarkably adult `end of the world` style series with “Object Z” in October (Object Z returns would follow in April 1966) At the last moment, the BBC `pulled` “The War Games” a chilling scenario about the results of nuclear war. It would not be allowed TV screening until the late 1980s.

                                       *                    *


  1. Apologies for boring format presentation! I'm new to all this! Alan S.

  2. You're doing a grand job thus far, Alan! I take it that the data is taken from your existing SPARKY files? It's fine, but I think you need some visuals---I can help you there.


  3. I forgot to ask, Alan: how many copies of SPARKY are you missing from the complete run of over 600? [I have all the 70s issues except about 25, and a lot less of the 60s copies ---the 1965-1969 copies always seem to be in demand on e-bay, though].

    1. I am at 649 issues now Rab! There are another two issues incomplete-so technically i'm short of Five!

      I would like to post Sparky year 1966 next-but I just don't know how to do it!

  4. Great to see your exhaustively-researched work in blog form, Alan. Like all of us bloggers, you'll find ways to change the appearance of the blog to your liking as time progresses.

  5. Thanks Niblet and Rab! I have followed your advice! I ammended `Comments` to `Always` and have put Rab as co-author. Hopefully in time this Blog may improve!

    I need to post the `Sparky 1966` section, but I can't figure out how to make it take below the 1965 part-any ideas please folks?

    I'm currently re-formatting & updating my `I. Spy years` when its done-I hope to add it on this Blog!

  6. Blogger will always show the most recent post at the top of the page, so your readers will expect 1966 to appear above 1965, not below. Otherwise we'd have to scroll through all your previous posts to find your latest offering!

  7. Just found this!
    I remember Sparky & Year of the Vanaks - are there any pictures of a vanak?
    I seem to remember them as tube like robots!

    1. Robert! Try the various `Sparky` threads on the `Comics UK forum - Rab Smith posted photos there!