Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Problems for youngsters

It's 1991, and these adverts are appearing in various magazines across the land...


Be prepared, it's a big fat thing about Acne, as in, Viz for kids, sort of. That's how it was marketed anyway, much in the same way that Oink! was perceived. Only this one has more swearing in it - here's your first issue's cover:


Look, it's Bart Simpson getting smacked in the face. Acne is about as "Nineties" as it gets:


See? Carry on reading, this is going to be a long one...


Based in Morecambe, and created by Tom Fulep and Clive Ward - as in, the duo chiefly responsible for Smut, but don't let that put you off. A lot of Smut's staff feature within Acne's pages as well, some of them producing better work here than they have anywhere else, which is encouraging. The editor through most of its life was Dean Wilkinson, and it lasted for just over two years, as in, thirty-one issues.

We'll begin with a selection of work by Tone, one of the most prolific of Acne's staff, at least in the earlier issues, and the "main" artist for Billy Butt, who could be seen as Acne's "mascot":


Unlike Tom Thug from Oink!, Billy Butt very rarely gets his comeuppance. Delinquency is actively encouraged throughout the pages of Acne - why be condescending and all that, eh? Another of Tone's regular characters is the aptly-named Dumb Get:



Along with secondary-mascot, Crater Face:


Actually, there's a slight chance that last one was drawn by Clive Ward, possibly. He did SOME of the Crater Face strips, at least, as well as this lot:

Because every comic needs a football-playing character.

And also an aggressive/sarcastic baby character, if at all possible.

Remember this from Smut?

Another of Clive Ward's characters is named Kevin Ross ("Who Gives a Toss?"), but he was soon renamed as Jonathan Woss - perhaps in reference to a certain fop-headed television personality?


Hmmm, possibly. Here's another of Wossie's adventures, just because I like it:


A short break now, sort of.



Well, not really. Just bringing up a couple of examples of Acne's odd habit of putting "popular" adverts into comic-form. Most comics makes companies pay for that sort of thing, but not Acne!

More stuff now... Dave Colton. He's been in a lot of these comics - Gutter and Blag to name but two. His brand of humour seems ideally suited to Acne, be it film parodies:


Pages full of visual puns:


Or his very own regular character, the Blue 'X' Code Man:


Street safety and all that. "At the end of the day", Acne is at least trying to be a kids' comic, which is why you'll occasionally find spots like these two, which seem oddly out of place considering the rest of the comic's content:



The work of Bear Hackenbrush, for example, is DEFINITELY at odds with those two, with his characters, Those Bloody Kids:


Appearing not just in comics-form, but also in "activity" form - there's the Bloody Kids Mix 'n' Match Fashion Page:


And... This thing, which in a post-1999 world, would do well to be published in an ADULT magazine, let alone a kids' comic:


Speaking of "controversial topics", here's something else from Tone which'd be hard to get past sensitive types these days:



And then... Well, Acne had a fair few "list" articles, all fairly innocuous stuff - "Top Ten Ways to Get Out of P.E.", "Top Ten Excuses for Spending a Long Time in the Lavvy", that sort of thing. The all of a sudden, there's this one:


Oof!

Let's see another of Acne's regulars now, and my own personal favourite. His name's Tony Wiles and he appears to be some sort of demonic genius when it comes to this drawing thing. He has his Monster Hunt series:




And his own "regular characters", a trio of hapless train spotters:



Dicky Howett of Whoopee! and Doctor Who fame is another of the frequent contributors to Acne, bringing such pages as these two:



And regular fun-filled Banana Bunch/Bash Street-esque frivolities with School Trip:




Lee Turnock's long-lasting Acne character is Nicky Hunt, the Lying Person:


Lee writes extensively of his time on Acne here (that's where I learnt a lot of the "facts" at the beginning of this spread). I can also say with apprehensive confidence that he wrote the scripts for Terry Castellini's MC Crapper, the Non-Stop Rapper:


Modern-day Beano person and former Gutter and Adroit contributor Gary Whitlock's also present within Acne with his Elephant Kid:


And here's where the comparisons with Oink! seem the most appropriate, as a whole mess of folk who did stuff for THAT comic also peddled their wares for THIS comic as well. Observe...

Mark Rodgers & Ian Jackson:


Tony Husband and Lew Stringer:




Charlie Brooker (you know, him off the telly):



And Davy Francis:


And you know how the story goes with Oink!, right? That newsagents assumed it was another Viz knock-off, so stuck it on the top shelves with all the others? This stern warning from Billy Butt on the cover of the second issue was an attempt to make sure that didn't happen to Acne as well:


Speaking of the covers... After perhaps a dozen issues, Dean Wilkinson took over the editing duties, and Acne "evolved", sort of, first by gradually making its covers more interesting. GRADUALLY being the word here, going from the simplistic ones above, to SLIGHTLY more colourful ones:


And then on to full-blown, energetic, perhaps even ENTICING covers like these:



Of course, you can't say a comic's "evolved" just by getting better covers - there's also a whole bunch of new artists and characters involved. Nigel Maughan's one of them, obviously. His strips had featured in Acne from the early days, but they started appearing more frequently with the later issues:







Similarly, Nick Miller has been around since the start, only to increase his work later on. Here's the "naughty girl" character:


The "psychotic teacher" character, who also had an "Agony Uncle" page in the early issues:



"Comical feline" Garford the Cat:



And Fred the Fly:


Demonstrated above is Acne's strange attitude towards swearing. All the "mild" ones are fine (bloody, bugger, sod, bleedin', bollocks and so on), "shit" and "shite" are just fine as well, even "twat" and "fuck" in sneakier ways - yet Fred's utterance of "bastard" is censored. Just thought I'd mention that.

Mervyn Johnston's an odd guy - his characters are great, but such is his style, I find it hard to tell them apart from each other. But unlike Anthony Smith, who I also have this problem with, at least his strips are entertaining. Observe this pair:



Will Kevans joined the gang as well, bringing Postman Prat with him from Gutter, as well as the obligatory Jeremy Beadle piss-take:



Also here is Phil Neill - I've stated before how much I dislike Phil's work, yet I've also stated before (twice, I think?) how I prefer the stuff he did for the "younger" crowd. And to illustrate a point, here's a big pile of his Acne work:





By far the most prolific of the "new" Acne artists was Lee "Drunken Bakers" Healey, who by the end of Acne's life was drawing at LEAST half of the thing every issue. His characters include hopeless superhero Blind-Man:


Furry foul-mouthed types the Swear-Bears:



Fun and fancy free Tales from Wibbly Wood:



This one-off thing (one of my favourite Acne things overall):


And his two "stand-out" pieces, both of which are continuing storylines spanning many an issue. The first of these is Adventures in the Land of the Crap Drawings - presented here is a cliffhanger of an episode:




"Interestingly enough", Mr. Healey was doing that same series a couple of years earlier for Elephant Parts - same story and everything, just that the Elephant Parts version has a LOT more swearing in it.

The other "saga" featured here is that of Victoria Snotty, a seemingly more psychotic version of Viz's Spoilt Bastard. At this point in the story, Victoria's parents have had enough of her and sent her to live with her grandma:



Her nan does her best, even taking Victoria on holiday to Butlin's, but she eventually dies of natural causes, something Victoria sees as a plot to prevent her from having breakfast in bed. A few issues later, her parents are dead too, so Victoria inherits the family home, along with all the staff. These she abuses frequently, until this final episode:



A happy ending!

Unfortunately, the ending for Acne was not a happy one. The thirtieth issue had this celebratory cover:


But then the thirty-first issue would also be the last issue. Undeterred, several of the artists and writers (Dean Wilkinson, Merv Johnston, Lee Healey and Phil Neill) went on to start another comic in 1995, called Fizog:


That's a whole other article in itself for another day, but George Shiers of Wacky Comics has done a write-up of the three issues that were published, so you can take a look at "Acne Mk.II" over there.

Soon after Fizog was launched, ANOTHER comic appeared, similarly titled as well, this one called Fizz:

 

Lots of familiar-looking characters on the cover there. And indeed, inside it really is just filled with reprints of Acne strips, just with the odd word changed. Oh, and Billy Butt has been renamed as Billy Biff:

Compare that panel with the one from the Billy Butt strip at the beginning of this article.

Even when I was ten, and reading Fizz, I could tell something was a bit off. Especially as I'd already read that very same Babykins story in an issue of Acne I'd got from a car boot sale the two years previous. Again, thanks to George Shiers for speaking to Dean Wilkinson and finding out what happened - this quote taken from George's write-up on Fizz:

Fizz was the Acne owner trying to spoil Fizog. Nobody wanted to work for him anymore as he was a bit of a dubious character. I got Fizz stopped as he was reproducing old Acne artwork without permission.
-Dean Wilkinson

And there you have it, a decent-enough comic given a bad legacy thanks to greed and all that. Stop reading now if you want, as that's the main "bulk" finished with... BUT THERE'S MORE!

ANOTHER "spin-off" of sorts from Acne was a comic titled The Big Greenie, from the "environmentalism is COOL" school of thought that also brought us Captain Planet, Widget the World Watcher and Global Gladiators.



It lasted for two issues, was filled with reprints of Acne strips (as well as reprints of many of Anthony Brown's things), along with a few patronising articles on why recycling's so great, that sort of thing. It isn't worth writing any more about it, anywhere, but at least you got a free pog with the first issue.

[minor update]
Ben Baker's informed me, with photographic evidence and everything, that the Big Greenie made it to AT LEAST a third issue. Turns out that just because I haven't seen something, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Who knew?



Some more minor items of interest from Acne now...

No idea who drew this one, but it features an example of Acne's "subversive swearing" - see if you can spot it:


And THIS was my favourite strip in Acne when I was about a third of the age I am now. Couldn't find an excuse to fit it in above, so here it is, and it's by Paul Wood:



Here's the to-be-expected T-shirt advert that EVERY comic in the Nineties had:


As well as this advert for Sonic T-shirts, because you know, it's a kids' comic, right?


And, rather dubiously, the back cover of almost every issue tried its best to get the kids to build up massive phone bills with these enticing prizes:






Notice the address at the bottom of those adverts is the same as the one given on the first issue's editorial page? Devious indeed! Still, they gave away a deadly motorbike to at least one child, so that's just fine:


And finally...



Don't you just love it when you get second-hand things, and the previous owner's left a trace of themselves with said items? Well this has nothing to do with anything besides being found in an issue of Acne, but now we can all have an intimate knowledge of the musical preferences of Daniel Hennesy, from 19 Beancroft, Woodgate Valley, Birmingham, circa 1992. Fantastic.

Blogger's not letting me add any more names to the "Labels" bit, at least for this article - so much for my plan of easily locating who worked on what comic and so on, ah well.

31 comments:

  1. Some nice art in a few places, but I was never drawn to these comics. (Npi.) Looking at them now, I'm still not much interested. I wonder who they were aimed at? Surely just because there was a bit of swearing wouldn't make it interesting to a non-comic reader? Never liked Viz either - thought it was a one-off idea that reached its sell-by date with issue 2. See, you can tell I've got my finger on the pulse.

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    1. I just had to look up what "NPI" meant - now I've learnt something, thanks!

      These comics are definitely not for everyone - the fact that the majority of them have little to no Internet presence is testament to that, certainly. But then, the way I'm guessing most people feel about these comics is the same way that I feel about superhero comics, so it just goes to show, maybe?

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  2. The publisher of Acne was an arsehead. That's all I feel like saying right now.

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    1. Would that be the one who also did Fizz? Or someone else entirely? Are we talking about Tom Fulep here, or is he an innocent party?

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    2. http://www.thevisitor.co.uk/news/local/elms-hotel-to-go-the-same-way-as-broadway-1-1211737
      His initials are MH and he gets a mention in this article. Promised the earth but couldn't even deliver a tiny piece of it.

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    3. Ah, so he's a property developer nowadays... One of my least favourite kinds of scum (buying treasured/listed buildings, and paying folk to commit arson if they're not allowed to turn them into houses/Tesco).

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  3. Tony Wiles managed to get at least one strip in the Beezer and Topper circa 1993. Can't remember the title, was a one off strip about a geek who suddenly became cool at school for buying new clothes and trainers, and then started rapping. One line that sticks in my memory is "See my jacket - cost a packet!".. I remember his style sticking out a bit at the time.

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    1. Err.. Tony Wiles' style that is, not the characters!

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    2. Ha, sounds fun! I've only got a couple dozen issues of Beezer & Topper, but it MIGHT be in one of them - not that it sounds familiar or anything. All the more incentive to go for the "full set" now.

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    3. Hello... Just seen this post. Tony Wiles was my dad and he was an absolute genius when it came to art work. He could turn his pen to anything and I was a very proud teenager daughter when Acme came out... Unfortunately he passed away at an early age of 56... He would be so excited to hear people talk about his work like you do. We have so much of his art work and have some displayed round the house... Thank you on behalf of my dad Tony

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    4. Hi Amy, thanks for getting in touch - I'm so sorry to hear about Tony, his work's truly unique amongst his contemporaries...

      It's such a shame that so many of these artists are now more-or-less forgotten, they certainly have the talent - if you're on Facebook, we'd love to see some of Tony's work that you have in the house!

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  4. Another belter, mr sir. I remember seeing that Jaws strip and it really unsettling me for days but I'm sure if wasn't in Acne which a few people at school read but was never my thing at all. Also: https://38.media.tumblr.com/aec588292734633765b8915e5c4a56de/tumblr_nbqke9PdHv1qd665vo1_500.jpg *coughing and that*

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    1. Well shut my mouth! I'll amend things here accordingly - as for the Jaws thing, Dave Colton was another who's stuff appeared everywhere. There's another one he did involving someone being decapitated on their motorbike, which was in Acne and POSSIBLY Gas as well - I'll be reminded of whatever it was in once I happen across it again.

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  5. Brilliant article, really enjoying these sir and its nice to see them being documented in this manner. These comics and the people responsible for them need to be highlighted a lot more. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks very much, Mr Jones! It's fun "doing" them as well, as a lot of reading's involved - it's just the scanning, cropping and resizing that's a pain in the arse, which is why there's such a big gap between updates. It's tedious, is what I'm saying.

      Meanwhile, "Sir" isn't necessary, but it's flattering all the same ;)

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    2. Oh I can relate with that, reminds me of all those two page Rolf Harris cartoon strips I scanned from Cor! comic...What a waste of time that was... Most welcome about the compliment "sir" ;)

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    3. Ah, guessing it all "came out" while you were still scanning them? Not a problem at all, still worth seeing, surely? All the Rolf's Cartoon Club clips are still on YouTube, not like you'll go to prison for posting them ;)

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    4. I did consider it but to be honest, I thought it best to just move on :(

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    5. Just out of interest is that your own issue of Fizog#1 ?

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    6. It is, yep - I have all three of them! I'll get around to it eventually, but it doesn't completely "fit in" with this loose theme I've got going at the moment. There's maybe six more articles of this ilk to do, then I'll be moving on to lesser-heard-of UK comics in a somewhat looser sense (which will include Fizog and all manner of other wonderful/dreadful things).

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    7. Ah! Jolly good! I have one too (a gift from Mr Wilkinson) I was willing to donate it to your noble cause to spread the good word! ;) I look forward to seeing future updates! :)

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    8. Aha! Well, the thought's appreciated, certainly cheers - just out of interest, how do you know Mr Wilkinson so that he can give you a gift?

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    9. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarkylocks-Three-Bears-Dean-Wilkinson/dp/0956275001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253289318&sr=8-1 He wrote it- I drew it :)

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    10. Aha! I've always liked your Monster Munch blog, didn't know you doodled as well - that book's been added to the "wish list", see what happens in December and all that, eh?

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    11. The Monster Munch blog is horribly overdue for an update (I have plenty of items to post it’s the fact I like to add information about the items that slows the process down!) Yes, I doodle, ink and paint and sculpt too! Hope to have a few projects launched in the next month or so. Drop me an e-mail sir, arfon@arfon.net ;)

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  6. Another OUTSTANDING post, THB. It must have taken ages, so thanks for sharing with us. I had the first couple of issues, but could never find it after that. The title alone of Lee's " Nicky Hunt...." was enough to make me snigger!

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    1. Thanks muchly! Yep, this one DID take forever, I think it's the biggest one yet (over a hundred pages scanned there, because there's so much to talk about with Acne). Did you see the "alternate" names for Nicky Hunt on Lee's blog?

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  7. I have just come back from revisiting Lee's Acne posts. One blog leads to another and all that!

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  8. Good to see some of my old, if naive work! In my defence , working for a lot of these comics was hard work especially when trying to get paid. Zit was a prime contender they ended up owing a mate of mine about £2000. I gave up with them all in the end as cartooning for advertising and now digital animation for games and apps became a better financial prospect!

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  9. Check out my new comic efforts http://www.mylifeinpieces.co.uk/

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    1. Hi Will, nice to hear from you again! I'm sure someone else has pointed me in the direction of your new stuff in the past (or was it you?) - either way, it looks like a good 'un... were you involved in the Falklands War by any chance?

      I've yet to hear anything good said about working for Zit, ha!

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