Friday, September 18, 2009

Appreciating the Madness of The Bunty

I'm not going to be too unkind here because D.C Thomson has changed significantly over the years. The company that once paid its creators less than IPC's juvenile comics division did, and refused to allow credits on the stories, is no longer that sort of company. In fact, with the publishing of Gary Northfield's creator-owned Derek the Sheep in the Beano, D.C Thomson took a massive leap in support of the creator, beyond any other British comic publication and many American ones. For that they should be congratulated, and in pointing that fact out I hope they will not be too mad about my close-ish reading of this Bunty Summer Special from 1972, that was given away free this week in The Guardian. After all, we need to learn from our past, and it is an interesting historical text.

As you know, my cousin Allan was a big Bunty fan. His sister, my cousin Mary, bought a few D.C Thomson titles and despite a fairly comprehensive slagging-off, he always championed the British titles when we were growing up. I, on the other hand, despite working on a British comic back in the 1980s, was much more into the US titles, and it's actually only over the last 10 years or so that I have woken up to how great the British comics, especially the 'girls' comics, actually were - and are. Having said all that, the fact that we readers have no idea who made these stories is not fair on us or on the creators. I have, I think, some idea who created some of the pages, but it irks me that creators were treated that badly.

Bunty was a weekly British comic for girls that began in 1958. Like most other British titles, it was an anthology and consisted of a collection of small strips sometimes two, sometimes three but hardly ever more than four or five pages long. There were seasonal specials, such as the Summer Special featured below, and Christmas and summer annuals. The stories, usually written by men and illustrated more often than not by men, were about, well, you'll find out when you read the examples below. They were often beautifully illustrated, often by celebrated European artists, and the coloured pages were hand-coloured by a team of women in the Thomson offices.

Most features in the Bunty came and went, but The Four Marys ran for years, becoming the comic's longest running story. Drawn by Roy of the Rovers and Scorer artist, Barrie Mitchell, who also worked for Mandy, Pow, Wham, 2000 AD and other titles, The Four Marys ran for decades from the comic's initial launch in 1958.

The story Tommy the Tomboy, with its ridiculous schooling premise, it's stereotypes and its anachronistic ideas about lady-like reactions makes us laugh for all the wrong reasons today; and perhaps would even have raised eyebrows in 1972, but the art is accomplished and attractive. It may be the work of a Spanish a Belgian an Argentinian an Italian or a British illustrator, I have no idea and I can't, at the moment, find out, but I've looked at the panels repeatedly over the last few days and each time it impresses me more.
The drawing of the strident Mrs Ponsonby, secretary of the 'Feminine Freedom Fighters', is simply perfect. She is constructed as a thick-lined, but not indelicately-rendered, shrew, and you can just imagine her shifting her balls as she moves her weight from leg to leg. By contrast, the delicate rendition of her daughter Tomasina, who is being 'taught' to be first manly and then feminine, is at odds with the text that tells us she has manly-traits.

Class rears its head in The Four Marys. Yet again we are faced with the sharp contrast of a story that is wonderful to look at, but reads like something from the Victorian era of chars and scullery maids held to ridicule.

Emergency 666 is not as weird as it looks at first glance. Again the premise is ridiculous, but there is nothing diabolical about the thing, well, apart from the dialogue that is. The emergency services number in the UK is 999, the number here, 666, is simply a reversal of that. I'm pretty certain it has nothing to do with The Book of Revelation and the number of the Beast. As silly as it is, I love the artwork.

Okay this is here for my benefit; I just love cut-outs.

Now, I have to admit this piece of ridiculous hokum, Peggy the Promette, is my favourite story. I absolutely love the hand-coloured work of some faceless Thomson staffer and I love the quality of the line-work. The story is awful, but it looks fantastic.

You know, sitting down reading 200 episodes of one of these adventures, or even just 10 or 12 of the more fleeting visitors to the pages of the Bunty, would fill me with dread; but I could sit there for hours eyeballing the pages. It's a tragedy that it has taken us (and by 'us' I really mean 'them') this long to appreciate this part of our heritage.


Mike Lynch said...

Thanks for this, Rod. Being an American, I had only seen maybe one of these once and without any context. I appreciate you taking the time to scan and put this together in context. Thank you.

Rod McKie said...

Hey Mike.

These 'girls' comics are very like the Japanese weekly comics for girls. Even the daft subject matter is similar. They just had fewer pages and of course they were not creator controlled.

That was the single most important factor, and as a result we never developed an industry similar to Japan's billion dollar earning comic book industry.

Bren Romans said...

Hi Rod, that was excellent, thanks. I used to like the Four Marys - probably because it was lightyears away from my own life.

Rod McKie said...

Pure escapism Bren. My wife loves The Four Marys still. She actually remembered all their names 25 years after reading it.

Royston Robertson said...

I was blown away by several of the facsimile comics in this week-long giveaway, Rod. The fact that such excellent work was produced week after week is astounding.

It was interesting to note that unlike Tammy, which was also one of the free comics, the Bunty also contained humour strips.

I particularly enjoyed the Whizzer and Chips on Friday. We were a Beano/Dandy family and I only saw W&C occasionally. But looking at them now, I see how the Beano was quite conservative and W&C was so much more off the wall! It was absolutely packed with stuff too. Tons of strips, jokes, puzzles etc.

I have to admit that although reading them was great fun, the whole thing made me nostalgic and a bit sad. It's such a shame that this world of kids' comics has all but disappeared.

Rod McKie said...

Hey Royston,

yup it has all but gone here. I like what you say about Whizzer and Chips. There was a feeling working on those IPC comics that we were more cutting edge than the DC Thomson crowd, but I suppose that was really down more to the editorial team.

Both IPC and Thomson were fantastic training grouds. It was a mind-blowing apprenticeship, if you think about who worked for the titles - and given that there was no comic-book or graphic novel course in the UK back then, the fact that so many British cartoonists graduated to the US comic scene can be put down almost entirely to our 2 major comics producers; and their underground competition.

Of course nothing has replaced them, which is maybe why UK cartoonists are now going straight from self-publishing to the US comics.

Sean Phillips said...

Before working for 2000AD and then American comics, I drew ten years worth of stories for Bunty and other comics published by DC Thomson. There's some of those pages in the depths of my blog, and the first comic strip I ever drew professionally when I was 15 for Judy is on my website.
All the comics given away with the Guardian last week were great, some very talented unknown artists and writers toiled for decades for British comics producing a great variety of work. A "Misty" reprint special came out last week too, featuring some great Spanish artists...

Rod McKie said...

Hey Sean, I remember reading that on your blog and it blew me away; I've only known a handful of people who began that young, at that level. Mort Walker springs to mind in the comic strip world, Randy Glasbergen in gag cartooning and Dennis Norden or Bob Monkouse (really) in the juvenile comics world (both on Keyhole Kate I think). That's a pretty small and exclusive club you are in.

As a matter of fact, I was just looking over some comic pages I did at IPC when I was about 23, and shaking my head. My wife told me to remember I was young then, but some panels really made me wince. I think maybe I should have spent a year or so working on an existing character rather then creating a new one, but we live and learn.

Angeline B. Adams said...

I enjoyed this a lot, having had similar reactions to the free copy of 'Bunty' last week. I read it from 1990 (The Four Marys were still there, of course, but balanced by The Comp, which I guess was a milder comics equivalent of Grange Hill) until its demise a few years ago.

I was always rather embarrassed to have continued buying it into adulthood, the UK not having the sort of comics collecting culture that exists in the US, Japan or (to name one European country in which I'm told home-grown comics are widely appreciated by adults) the Netherlands.

So it's nice to see our comics heritage finally getting some appreciation, both in the Guardian and the blogosphere...

Rod McKie said...

I completely agree with everything you say Angeline - couldn't agree more.

allan said...

What a delightful week that was! However, if you could have seen my spoilt brat face at the newsstand looking for the Sparky, Beezer, Topper and, my favourite, not the Bunty but the Victor.

Now would you believe that I got busted in secondary year one for plagiarising a story about the French Revolution from the Victor annual from two Christmases earlier. Who exposed me to Mr Grandison? Your friends Denis and Roddy!

Rod McKie said...

Those two were not my friends, but I have to say you accomplished much if you managed to get those two thickos to admit having read anything.

I didn't get any emails from you, or I'd have put you onto an extras part in a short movie to be screened on Sky in November. You would have to have driven down to Watford or somewhere begining with W at about 2 days notice, but I think it was a weekend; which would have made it easier, I suppose.

So, you pinched a Victor story, did you? Tsk, tsk.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I know I am a bit late here but just found this blog. I am female of a certain age and Bunty was "my " comic from the mid/late sixties til the mid seventies (then on to Jackie...)
I am a collector of Bunty, Judy and Mandy annuals of the time and read them regularly (great de-stressers!) and I am getting increasingly interested in the illustrators - there are some very distinctive styles that stand out - but I too had realsied that they went without any credits at all....I would love to know more about who they were/are. Jenny

Rod McKie said...

Hi Jenny, I think when this was posted I got an email from a comics historian in Spain who was trying to trace original artwork from one of the Spanish artists from the Bunty. She is, as you would expect, a celebrated illustrator in Spain, but relatively unknown here outside cartooning circles. If memory serves, the artwork was not released to her.

Unknown said...

I am the nephew of Rex Hudson who illustrated for the comics Bunty and June during the 1960's. I have some bits of artwork of his that I can scan and email if anyone would like. I have some amazing original art boards of his 1960's impressions of the space age that he drew, complete with spaces for the 'bubbler' to add text. Thanks, Bernard Hudson

Stephen Poppitt said...

I don't believe there was any possibility of a billion dollar comics industry growing up in the UK, if the comics had been creator-controlled.

I actually remember the Sixties and Seventies. I bought a lot of comics in those days. I remember the closures of titles, the repeated amalgamations, the failure and bankruptcy of comics publishers such as Odhams, and the constant struggle against wafer-thin profit margins (evidenced by constantly rising cover prices or falling page counts), and the ever-shrinking market due to the competition from television - especially prounced once tv had gone over to colour in 1969.

Hard economic realities killed the market; and it made no difference who controlled the artwork. Without the huge resources of IPC and DC Thomson the comics would have been uneconomic much sooner. They at least had a lot of titles to amalgamate. Marketing, printing and distribution costs; spiralling inflation; expensive new technology; and an ever declining market: these were the key factors.

Rod McKie said...

Hey Bernard. That would be marvelous. I'd love to see the scans.

Rod McKie said...

I understand your perspective Stephen, but I don't think your right. In Japan and France publishing companies have come and gone, but the small cartoonist studios survive and flourish, along with the characters the studios control.

There is empirical evidence with characters like Lucky Luke and Tammy Tuff appearing in IPCs doomed titles, but those characters continuing to provide a healthy income for the creators over the years in other markets.

The strength of a creator-owned model is that when incompetant editors and management shut down a title for whatever reason, the creators can place their characters anywhere else they like.

You'll find some info about the Franco/Belgian comic work that appeared in IPC titles here:

Rod McKie said...

Sorry, I messed up a "you're". Back of the class!

Ooteeny said...


I love what you've written about Bunty, it was quite odd sometimes - I read it for years and loved it!
So much so I have a blog called "Bring Back bunty" (, and have been finding out some info about the illustrators involved. If you Mike, or anyone else, would like to contribute or help the cause please get in touch.
Thanks, Jo

Anonymous said...

My Dad got me my subscription of "JINTY", back in the late 70's. It would arrive in AU every week 'or so', sometimes weeks would pass then I'd get 3 or 4 at once. I was mad about skating and adored the story "Spirit of the Lake", once I had all the episodes, I cut/taped the comics to make a 'comic book' of that story. I still have it carefully stored. I'd love to find out who the illustrator was... Narelle -Brisbane AU

helsbels said...

absinthangel - the artist who drew Spirit Of The Lake in Jinty was Philip Townsend.