Fans of British comics have given a resounding cheer for the publication of Faceache: The First Hundred Scrunges, by the great Ken Reid, on 30 November 2017, which collects his excellent and much-admired comic strips from Jet and Buster in the early 1970s. Faceache featured the exploits of Ricky Rubberneck, the ‘lad born with a bendable bonce’, who each week ‘scrunged’ his rubbery features into one of Reid’s trademark grotesque gurns, causing consternation in his friends, neighbours and schoolteachers.
To many, Reid is simply the best humour cartoonist Britain has produced. Somewhat scandalously, this is the first substantial collection of any of Reid’s comics work and, to mark the occasion, friend of the Cartoon Museum Andrew Lee has kindly loaned us his page of original Faceache art, along with a page of Martha’s Monster Make-up, a later strip Reid created for Monster Fun that was essentially a female variation on Faceache. These are currently on display in the comic creators’ gallery at the museum, where they can be admired along with our nearby page of Reid’s Roger the Dodger.
Over his long career, Reid breathed life into a multitude of characters and strips. Born in Manchester in 1919, he learned his chops with his newspaper strip The Adventures of Fudge the Elf, a fantasy story he began in 1938 for the Manchester Evening News. The strip proved popular locally, with Fudge dolls sold and annuals published at Christmas collecting the newspaper strips (facsimile editions of two of these were published by Savoy Books in 1981, the only previous books reprinting Reid’s work). It was placed on hiatus while Reid served in the army during the second world war, and continued after he was demobbed until he ended it for health reasons in 1962. It is fascinating to compare Reid’s neophyte cartoons from the very beginning of his career with later strips drawn in his mature style – a stark contrast indeed.
In the late 1940s/early 50s, Reid fancied a new challenge. For a few years, while still drawing Fudge, he worked for the venerable weekly Comic Cuts, where he created a strip called Foxy and drew the cover strip, Super Sam. However, the publisher, Amalgamated Press, ended the long-running title in September 1953, merging it with Knockout. One of the Amalgamated Press’s chief rivals in the comics publishing field was Dundee’s DC Thomson, which began publishing The Dandy in 1937 and The Beano in 1938. In the early 1950s, The Beano entered its golden age. First, Davy Law’s anarchic Dennis the Menace was introduced in 1951. Then in 1953, Reid’s brother-in-law Bill Holroyd, himself a comics artist at DC Thomson, brought him to the attention of the company, which was looking for an artist for a new Beano character – Roger the Dodger, who would avoid homework and chores by using his many cunning dodges (that usually backfired). Reid was hired, and his first strip was published in April 1953. Leo Baxendale’s Little Plum appeared in October 1953, swiftly followed by his Minnie the Minx (December 1953) and When the Bell Rings (February 1954), which soon changed its name to the Bash Street Kids. The great Beano triumvirate of Law, Reid and Baxendale was in place, and their anarchic tearaways ruled the comic.
Over the next 11 years, Reid created other strips for DC Thomson, which were characterised by his madcap stories, elastic facial expressions and panels packed with detail. For the Dandy, he drew Little Angel Face, Bing-Bang Benny and Big Head and Thick Head. For the Beano, he drew Grandpa, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves and Jinx. But his most popular Beano strip first appeared in March 1958. Jonah is a dim, jinxed seaman who sinks every boat he comes near. Sailors scramble to get away as soon as they see him (‘Aaagh! It’s ‘im!’) – but to no avail. The scripts were by Walter Fearn and, as Baxendale wrote in his memoir A Very Funny Business, Fearn and Reid ‘made a perfect partnership – they started to strike sparks off each other, and suddenly the feature caught alight.’ Reid would take Fearn’s 12-panel scripts and run with them, expanding sequences and developing gags until there were 20 or 30 panels on a page. Jonah out-gooned the Goon Show, and for a time it bumped Dennis the Menace from the back page of the Beano and topped the comic’s popularity chart.
In 1964, Baxendale quit DC Thomson after a disagreement with the Beano‘s editor. He was snapped up by Odhams Press (a subsidiary of IPC), and given the opportunity to create his own comic. He invited Reid to join him, offering him £30 a page compared to the £18 the Beano was paying. Initially, Reid wanted to continue drawing Jonah while working for Odhams, but DC Thomson demanded exclusivity and refused to offer more money, so Reid left.
The new comic – called Wham! – appeared in June 1964, and for it Reid created the long-running and greatly loved ‘comic horror’ strip, Frankie Stein, along with the Victorian miser Jasper the Grasper. In February 1966, Odhams followed Wham‘s initial success with another title, Smash!, for which Reid created another excellent maritime strip, Queen of the Seas, and took over The Nervs, previously drawn by Graham Allen. A third title, Pow!, followed in January 1967, and Reid drew Dare-a-Day Davy for the back page, providing outstanding strips based on dares sent in by readers. However, in 1968, Odhams began to experience financial difficulties and in January 1969 it was absorbed into IPC.
After an abortive attempt to find work with Mad Magazine in the USA, Reid began providing strips for IPC’s comics line, where he stayed for the rest of his career. He created a huge range of material, from an array of football strips drawn for Scorcher and Scorcher and Score between 1970 and 1974 (Sub, Hugh Fowler, etc) to Tom Horror’s World (inspired by TV science show Tomorrow’s World, as you might have guessed), which began in Whoopee! in 1981.
Reid created Faceache for the first issue of Jet in 1971. Jet lasted only 22 issues before it was merged with Buster, but Faceache survived the merger. At the same time, he expanded his comic horror repertoire, drawing one-page posters featuring inventively monstrous creatures suggested by readers – Creepy Creations in Shiver and Shake and, for Whoopee!, Wanted posters and World-wide Weirdies.
Reid created Martha’s Monster Make-up for Monster Fun in 1975. Martha uses a jar of make-up from a horror film studio to ‘monstrify’ her face, as well as other people and objects. It wasn’t as inspired as Faceache and, surprisingly, when Monster Fun was merged with Buster in 1976, Martha initially replaced Faceache in the comic (the strips were possibly too similar to run concurrently in the same comic). But after only four months Martha was dropped, Faceache was back, and Reid continued drawing the strip until his death in 1987.
As an interesting aside, in 1976/77, Pat Mills was creating the science fiction comic, 2000AD, for IPC. Of course, 2000AD went on to be hugely successful, and has outlived all other IPC comics and, indeed, IPC itself. Mills was keen to feature on the back cover an unused strip by Reid that featured the mutant survivor of a nuclear war. However, the IPC powers-that-be had decided the strip was disgusting and, mysteriously, when Mills asked for it, it could not be located in the vaults. It is intriguing to speculate how Reid’s career might have developed if he had become associated with 2000AD‘s success – and how he might have changed 2000AD.
Reid was a unique cartoonist whose work belongs in a great tradition of British comedy that stretches from the Goons to the Young Ones to Viz, and he deserves to be better known. While many aficionados consider his 1960s work for Odhams to be the pinnacle of his art, Faceache is enormously entertaining slapstick, and the collected volume by the current 2000AD publishers, Rebellion, is long overdue, greatly welcome and highly recommended. And the good news is that Rebellion is planning a collection of Reid’s Creepy Creations for next year. Keep ’em coming, we say!
By Richard Crouch
Faceache: The First Hundred Scrunges by Ken Reid, published on 30 November 2017, is a 118-page hardback priced £14.99. It is available from the Cartoon Museum’s shop and online at http://www.cartoonmuseumshop.org/.
- I am indebted to Peter Hansen’s profile Ken Reid 1919-1987: Britain’s comic genius, published in True Brit: A Celebration of the Great Comic Book Artists of the UK, edited by George Koury, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2004. The profile is available online here
- Leo Baxendale – A Very Funny Business, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, 1978
- Pat Mills – Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! Millsverse Books, 2017
I also consulted the following website, blogs and forum, which not only are excellent sources of information about Ken Reid, but also contain many scanned examples of his work from across his career. With my thanks to their respective hosts.