Action The Sensational Paper for Kids 1

©Words Paul McEvoy

Periods in your passage through childhood into adulthood inevitably get swept under the carpet of life, but I stumbled over a copy of a particular comic on ebay the other day and a whole array of memories flooded back.

Anyone remember the 'comic' (I use the term advisedly) called ACTION from early 1976? It was a corker for a twelve year old boy... ‘Action’ was chock full of blatant cinematic zeitgeist rip-offs of the day: Speilberg's Jaws is transformed into ‘Hookjaw’, a gigantic great white shark, predator of the deep, vowing revenge on tasty humans foolhardy enough to get in the water after getting maimed as a young shark by a big game fisherman. Seminal 70s movie Rollerball becomes ‘Death Game 1999’ where ambiguous sporting ethics are cast aside in a bloodthirsty murderous quest for team victory and lucrative sponsorship deals. Dirty Harry Callahan pops up in a strip as ex-cop, maverick private eye hard man 'Dredger'… and so it goes on.

Action The Sensational Paper for Boys 2.jI suppose I could say I bought it for 'dynamic' drawing practice but really I subscribed initially to provide an alternative to the Marvel/DC US led 'superhero' comics which were suddenly and unaccountably banned in our household. My younger brother and I were distraught. Mum had secretly either thrown all our comic stash away or had given them to the kids next door who simply scrawled all over our prized collector's items or made disastrously constructed paper planes out of our Spiderman centre spreads. Dad thought our Marvel comics were for “little kids and them gobshite quare fellas”...  a triple whammy from mum and dad that still smarts now, dagnabbit... "Look!" he'd say, pointing a thick forefinger at a comic cover grasped in his hand, "All these langers poncing about in capes and costumes and knickers... muscles everywhere! Its not natural! Why can't you buy something wholesome, like the Hotspur or The Whizzer and Chips or something?" My brother and I were dumbfounded and left to take all this on board, as our latest purchases of Silver Surfer, Iron Fist, Son Of Satan (not as nefarious as it sounds, really!) and Dr Strange got chucked in the bin... and I hadn't even read the flaming Iron Fist yet.

So, me and our kid duly went out to the newsagents, heads hung low, with our 10p comic money clutched in our sweaty hands thinking our Marvel universe had collapsed. But lo and behold! What's this I spy? A glimmer of dodgily printed hope on a barren Marvel-less horizon?  YES! Our comic world salvation stood out on the shelves, jostling for visual space amongst the Dandys, Beezers and Beanos like a hooligan in a kindergarden. A veritable rottweiler in poodle's underpants. ACTION! shouted the banner, sitting above a crudely rendered but startling image of a great white shark with a giant fishing hook stuck in its lower jaw. Mouths agape, we avidly thumbed thru a copy and suddenly realised this was our lifeline! 'Action' superficially resembled an old fashioned British boy's comic, and please heed the word 'superficially' - 'cos under the cheaply printed newsprint skin it was a wholly different beast… What's more, the 1st issue we were looking at boasted the strapline 'THE SENSATIONAL PAPER FOR BOYS!' emblazoned right across the masthead. It said PAPER and not COMIC! How grown up! Not an underpants wearing gobshite in sight! And as a special super duper bonus this inaugural issue came with a free 'boy's toy'… a cheap, Red Arrow style, crappy, elastic band powered flying gizmo. Bingo! Bang on the brief and toeing the party line for mum and dad! Fantastic! And it was only 7p! That left 3p each for some acid drops, cola cubes or an assortment of fruit salad and blackjacks… woohoo! Let the good times roll!

"Ah, now then, that's REAL boy's stuff now, no more of that shaggin' Spiderman nonsense", said dad when we got home and waved our purchases quickly under his nose for approval, both of us making much more of the free shitty toy than we needed to as a necessary diversion… Little did dad know! On closer scrutiny 'Action' was positively demonic in its content and getting more violent by the week, with a huge body count of both bad guys and good guys in each issue all brutally despatched in a darkly imaginative variety of gruesome, eye popping ways. Exploitative, ultra violent, gory, explosive... thrilling even... and the stark black & white artwork within was fucking great - the stories even had blood in them! BLOOD! This was a whole different underclass, almost a new genre, as opposed to the slick, highly polished Marvel material we'd previously known, loved and subsequently mourned… This was visceral, rough, down and dirty and right in your face pal, OK?… it was so grubby it was brilliant. You'd open the comic and fully expect a metaphorical punch in the eye from a gnarled, tattooed fist with broken knuckles and crescents of dirt embedded under the fingernails. Have some of that mate! This was everything a 13 year old wanted in one convenient package. I loved it…

Action The Sensational Paper for Boys 3

We blissfully got away with it for months till Action suddenly got banned by the Governmental powers that be after pressure was brought to bear on the publishers (IPC) by Mary Whitehouse and a supporting cast of blue rinsed meanies, resulting in the entire print run of the upcoming issue being pulped. An item about it appeared on Nationwide as we were having our evening supper, en famille. Alas, it was a witch-hunt masquerading as a debate and Action was already butter basted and lashed to the stake with its bovver boots on fire. A selection of familiar Action covers and spreads flashed across the screen and Action's editor was suddenly there on the telly, an embarrassed looking talking head, ineffectually attempting to defend the undefendable to none other than a very pompous, self righteous, pointy fingered Frank Bough (yes, the very same cocaine using, cross dressing, brothel loving sex beast, who was luridly exposed by the red tops a mere 12 years later!)… talk about stones and glass houses.

Well, you can guess the rest. Cue the spluttered cup of tea, the peas shooting off dad's dinner plate with a series of volcanic WTF's and, purely because he was within reach, a swipe of a big hand across the side of my brother's head. Smack! "You deserved that ye little bollix!" My brother in shock, eyes like saucers, holding his ear, wailing "What'd I do? What'd I do?" Somehow I kinda got away with it. That was the first time censorship in this country had affected me directly, in more ways than one. The first time censorship, whether imposed by family values or by a government with more than a hint of the nanny state about it, made any sort of impression on me. And I didn't like it. I resented my freedom, however small, being impinged upon. I felt like the banning of the comic was a punishment for some undisclosed and unknown transgression… wholly unfair, and while Frank Bough continued to chide the editor on TV, Dad was apoplectic, mum was aghast, I was spitting feathers at the injustice and my brother had a fat ear and a nascent concussion. Funny actually, in hindsight. A huge storm in a teacup I know, but big shit to us then, nevertheless. The ramifications seemed to rumble on in the house like distant thunder for weeks. Makes me think; was that all we had to worry about? Really? We should all be so lucky these days… All that drama! Over an unfairly frowned upon art form and me and our kid's somewhat duplicitous sidestep around our parent's draconian comic ban.

Action The Sensational Paper for Boys 5In essence this was a snapshot of a time just before comics got pretty much forgotten altogether by both my brother and I… till years later when Frank Miller emerged, reigniting a passion and forcing me to reevaluate the medium. It was a rite of passage, flagged up and marked in my memory by that unique and groundbreaking comic… the demise of which acted as a catalyst for a sea change in my life, akin to watching one childhood era slipping away like a receding tide on soft sand as a new era slips in to fill the vacuum. Puberty was already on the doorstep, banging the knocker and peering in through the letterbox with wild eyes screaming 'RAGING HORMONES! RAGING HORMONES! LET ME IN YOU BASTARDS!' and suddenly girls 'mattered' and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko… didn't. Bands, gigs and records with their attendant colourful sleeves increasingly took an everlasting and permanent hold in my life... while more tempestuous storms silently graduated from that teacup on the table to the harbour of my emotions, preparing to really rock my loosely tethered boats in the not too distant future.

Shake Some ACTION? Yes indeed.

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