Saturday, 2 May 2015

Stiff upper strips 1: Elephant Graveyard

After the recent, not disappointment exactly, perhaps mild diversion, non-epic pass, of the latest Marvel juggernaut, I've decided to start a short series looking at my favourite comics on the other side of the Atlantic.

ROSE: That's more like it. Bit of a smile. The old team. 
DOCTOR: Hope and Glory, Mutt and Jeff, Shiver and Shake. 
ROSE: Which one's Shiver? 
DOCTOR: Oh, I'm Shake. 
(Doctor Who, 2006)

When I was growing up I wasn't so much interested in four-colour guys in tights beating each other up as we got from the States*, but black and white chortle-some fun with a spooky edge from my native British Isles.
It was so long ago that I'm sorry to admit I might have been sent to the shops with a parental note to buy cigarettes, and came back with a comic, the first I'd ever purchased for myself.  I was already a weird kid, so it was the picture on the back cover which sold it for me:

Artist Ken Reid's Creepy Creations always struck a perfect balance between humorous and horrific. Just look at this fungoid monstrosity, making it's way across a moonlit moor towards an unsuspecting Tudor farmhouse. If it wasn't looking over its shoulder with a cheeky grin the 'Terrible twig of Truro' could be utterly terrifying...

The comic was the legendary Shiver and Shake from IPC publishing, famous for its top-billing character Frankie Stein (originally from '60s title Wham!). Other spookily-themed strips included the double page 'Scream Inn', Horrornation St - featuring vampire immigrant Herr Raisin (see what they did there?), mutated-Blofeld Grimly Feendish (also ex-Wham!) and of course, those wonderful back page Creepy Creations which first hooked me.  Title characters Shiver and Shake were themselves adapted from an previous strip in Cor! (see, who needs the Marvel Cinematic universe - this was just as byzantine) and this wonderful comic came out every week - artists certainly earned their wages in those days)

One of my favourite strips, Scream Inn, was turned into a board game.
The mission statement was in the title. you would 'shiver' with creepy delight at the eponymous ghost's hammy horror-based strips, and 'shake' with mirth (or chortle at least) at the exploits of the titular pachyderm and his chums in their pull-out section. In hindsight, an elephant in a schoolboy uniform is actually far more disturbing then anything Shiver could conjure in his pages, but these were more innocent times...

Another wonderful UK comics tradition was the holiday/summer special, and a bumper-sized issue promised the same but more. Occasional features in these fed my growing interest in horror films - on one occasion a snarling Christopher Lee in his many horror guises could be found sandwiched between the exploits of Blunder Puss and Soggy the sea monster. It was all too good to be true.  And we know what happens when that's the case, don't we readers?

My first inkling of the harsh economic realities of the real world bit hard with an awful revelation in issue 79 in 1974. "Hey readers, there's big news for you inside!" promised Frankie Stein on the cover.
Well, he wasn't lying...

The logo on the bottom left says it all 'WHOOPEE' and Shiver&Shake' ... this wasn't a merger, it was a takeover by a comic I had little interest in. Rather than linger to watch every last trace of my beloved weekly fade spectrally away, I jumped the Whoopee and Shiver & Shake ship  - less painful that way.

There was some good news however. Although the comic itself had gone, the wonderful hardback Shiver and Shake annuals continued to appear right up until 1985 - and were a beloved mainstay of my Christmas Day bounty for many a year. Thanks Mum and Dad... I mean, Santa!

RT Nixon always raised his already stellar game for the Christmas Annual covers. 
I was more influenced by him then I realise, as any time I attempt a cartoon
the character always has their pinky extended, like Frankie Stein, above.

But the year after Shiver and Shake's demise, a new similarly based chuckles and chills title from IPC appeared, full of Fun, and Monsters - and we'll look at that one next.

*Predictably enough, it was the now defunct and 'dark as a midnight coal cellar' Marvel Horror titles which really captured my imagination.  Tomb of Dracula, The Living Mummy, Werewolf by Night, Morbius the Vampire and The Monster of Frankenstein were eagerly consumed by me and will get a post of their own, oh yes indeed...

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