‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.
‘Smash!’ after Odhams
In January 1969 Odhams ceased to exist as a publishing imprint, and Smash became an IPC Magazines publication. Most of the consequences of this change didn’t become apparent until the issue cover-dated March 15th, in which the comic changed dramatically. IPC had waited three months to relaunch Smash, because, on the one hand, it needed some lead-time in which to ready new strips, and, on the other, Spring was traditionally considered in the publishing industry to be a good time to launch a new (or, in this case, virtually new) comic.
With the re-launch, Smash became the last ever British comic to feature a variety mix of adventure, humour, and sports-themed stories. Subsequent boys’ comics contained exclusively sports, or war, or humour strips; such as Scorcher and Score and Shoot (which featured only football), or Action and Battle (which featured only war stories).
A hallmark of this policy was to be the even-handedness with which the editorial staff would draw the multitude of reprint strips which featured in the new Smash from both Lion and Buster, in seeking to appeal to readers of both (i.e. mixing serious and humorous strips without discrimination).
The symbol of the change was the new cover feature, Warriors of the World. This now replaced The Swots and Blots, who, drawn by Mike Lacey, had occupied the cover during the final part of the Odhams years. Happily, The Swots and the Blots survived (and prospered) on the inside pages.
With the first relaunch issue (issue 163) bearing a cover feature entitled Warriors of the World No.1, the former numbering was discontinued. To have continued the original sequential numbering alongside the ‘Warriors of the World’ series would only have caused confusion.
The revamped Smash, now comprising 40 pages, featured new all-British strips — adventure serials, humour strips, and sporting strips — alongside reprints from Lion, such as Eric the Viking (originally ‘Karl the Viking’), The Battle of Britain (originally ‘Britain in Chains’), and Nutt and Bolt, the Men from W.H.E.E.Z.E.; and alongside reprints from Buster, such as Wacker (originally Elmer), Consternation Street, and Monty Muddle – The Man from Mars (originally Milkiway – The Man from Mars); but strictly no American superheroes. The number of reprint strips was another significant indicator of its troubled financial situation, reprints being significantly cheaper than commissioning new strips.
Of the former Odhams strips, only a handful survived. Humour strips which continued were The Swots and the Blots, Wiz War, Bad Penny, and Percy’s Pets (although Percy did not appear every week). Much mourned were the loss of The Cloak and The Man from BUNGLE, dropped due to the waning popularity of spy spoofs (in 1968 even the TV series The Man from UNCLE had been cancelled); and especially mourned was the loss of Ken Reid and The Nervs.
The serious offerings fared even worse. For although the survivors appeared to include Sergeant Rock – Paratrooper and Bunsen’s Burner, in reality neither of these were genuinely from the Odhams era. Both had begun only a few weeks earlier, in issues 156 and 158 respectively. They were really a part of the relaunch, but were introduced slightly ahead of time to disguise that fact. The only genuine survivor from the adventure strips of the Odhams years was King of the Ring, and even that had only begun with issue 144, in November 1968.
After a few months, superheroes appeared to be making a comeback. The Editorial column admitted receiving complaints from readers about the loss of the Marvel strips; and, in the autumn of 1969, six months after the Fantastic Four and Thor had been dropped, an all-British superhero called Tri-Man appeared, and the character also featured in the Smash Annual that Christmas. Some indication of the effort put into this character is the fact that he was given sole possession of the front cover of the Annual! The adventures of Johnny Meek featured a hero who had triple-superpowers, hence the name Tri-Man. He leaped about rooftops (shades of Spider-Man, from the long-vanished Pow), and got his powers from a ray device once every 24 hours (shades of DC’s ‘Green Lantern’). But the strip did not prove popular, and quietly vanished in the reshuffles of 1970.
In the light of how few strips of any sort survived from the Odhams era, and given that none of the superhero strips survived at all (which, according to the Letters pages, were the most popular feature of the Power Comics), it would be stretching the truth to say that Smash inherited the best of the Odhams strips. Stylistically, The Swots and the Blots was the most creative and sophisticated Odhams strip (save only The Nervs), and it did survive. But it was only one strip. And The Nervs, which was objectively a more sophisticated strip in 1968, did not.
Moreover, the publisher was taking a significant risk by re-launching the former Power Comic as, in effect, a clone of IPC’s most popular titles, Lion and Valiant. The publisher felt it could repeat the success of Valiant and Lion by copying their successful formula. Nevertheless, without its discontinued superheroes Smash had nothing unique about it, that might attract new readers, compared to its stablemates (featuring as it did a mix of strips reprinted from, or based upon the style of, Lion and Buster).