It’s always a bit odd when I stumble across something that was a fundamental building block in my life-long passion for comics, and it might be something I haven’t read in 25 years, and I still recognise every page, and I never forgot any of this.
It’s good, but odd.
This week, I unearthed a kids comic hardback annual that I was given in the late seventies, hiding in a box full of old editions of the Gunniess Book of Records that I still can’t bear to throw out. According to the note on the inside cover, I was given it for Christmas 1978, a present from my Aunty Val and Uncle Soul. I was three.
I’m thirty-seven now.
It’s the Cor!! 1979 annual, with Ivor Lott and Tony Broke, and Jasper the Grasper, and Hire A Horror, and Fiends & Neighbours, and loads of other laffs. The comic was one of many British kids weekly humour comics that were coming out at that time, but I always had a sneaky fondness for Cor!! (probably because of this annual). It wasn’t as boring as the Beano, or as goofily anarchic as Krazy, but it occupied a broad middle ground of chums and snacks and adventures.
New Zealand was saturated in these cheap, all-newsprint British weekly humour comics for kids in the early eighties, and I soaked up a lot of them, and it was easy to become a connoisseur. Whizzer & Chips and Buster were always high-quality affairs, but I hated The Beano and The Dandy - they were comics you only read if there was absolutely, positively nothing else. I had brief obsessions with even briefer titles like School Fun – which, hilariously, made fun of school - or Oink, which was one of the last gasps, a kid’s version of Viz that literally made me vomit once, and also gave the world Charlie Brooker.
I had a lot of issues of all of these at one time, but they were always so disposable, I doubt I have two issues left in the dozens of boxes of comics sitting behind me.
(If anybody’s wondering – Whizz-Kid For Life. I’ll tolerate a Chip-ite, but we can never be friends.)
The annuals weren’t quite so disposable as the weekly things, and I just never got rid of them, and now they are all I really have left. I’m glad I held on to them, because there are valuable lessons in this archaic comics.
Even though most of the one page strips are largely built around some crap pun and little else (like Jelly Baby, a baby that can stretch like jelly, or Jack Pott, a kid with a seriously troubling gambling problem), they’re also charming little slices of comic fun, from days gone by, and I can still remember how attractive that was as a kid.
They’re pretty harmless comics. They might have things that look ideologically dodgy to a 21-st century eye – including a gleeful appreciation of corporal punishment, an obsession with fried food & sweets and a firm insistence that a woman’s place is in the home – but most of the stories tend to be tiny little morality plays that do teach valuable lessons. Any characters that show too much pride, gluttony, envy, selfishness, jealousy or laziness invariably suffers for their sins in ironic fashion. Lesson number one for Young Bob: don’t be a wanker to other people, and life will be easier.
And so much time has passed since these comics were conceived, written and drawn, that they have become fascinating sociological documents. There are the touches of the everyday life in these strips – scenes where people are shopping for old fashions, and eating food that everybody knows is bad for them, and having a laugh at someone getting hurt - that have largely faded away from modern living over the past 30 years. These comics are far from reality, but contain hidden truths that can not be found in history books.
(My particular favourite dose of social comment in Corr!! Comic is Gus The Gorilla, the story of a groovy young brown man who doesn’t quite fit into a straight white society, who also happens to be a monkey. This strip came out at a time when there were actual race riots in London, and at first glance now looks horribly racist. Although it’s important to note that Gus always gets the last laugh in every strip, and is generally much, much cooler than anybody else.)
I can not lie – I got a bit emotional when I read the Cor!! annual for the first time in twenty years the other day. Before cracking open those stiff cardboard covers, I wouldn’t have been able to name three of the strips inside, but as I read the thing, I realised I remembered ever page, every line, every word.
How could I forget this? How was it sitting in my head for so long without me realising it? Who did these stories anyway?
There were never any credits on these comics, so I don’t know who the artists are, who the writers are, or anything like that, but I will always remember their work. And sheer class never goes out of fashion.