Cheeky comic – or Cheeky Weekly, as some might feel is the correct title because it is what is actually printed on the masthead, but I'm going to stick with Cheeky for the purposes of this blog just because it's what I've always called it – launched on 22 October 1977 and ran for nearly two and a half years. The eponymous Cheeky had been a member of the Krazy Gang in the pages of Krazy comic, and had earned the rare honour of his very own IPC publication (as had Roy of the Rovers, rocketing off from the pages of Tiger the previous autumn). In fact it was another offshoot that presumably led to Cheeky going it alone: in September 1977 DC Thomson had launched Plug, a standalone title for the similarly buck-toothed goon from the ranks of the Beano’s Bash Street Kids, although their launch dates are so close that it’s possible Plug was in fact a response to (and attempt to beat to the newstands) Cheeky.
Before going any further I'd like to recommend cheekyweekly.blogspot.com, a terrific blog by Niblet that will tell you pretty much everything you'll ever want to know about the comic. It's got loads of scans and is packed with details and stats. It's been invaluable to me in identifying most of the publication's uncredited artists for this post. I discovered it just before starting Great News For All Readers! and was worried it would leave me with nothing original to say about Cheeky. Which it has, as it happens! Cheers Niblet! Only kidding – this was always going to be a personal and very limited take on the comic compared to Cheeky Weekly Blog, so I recommend you head over there to immerse yourself in the full Krazy Town experience.
Cheeky the comic had a fairly unique format which was about as high-concept as it got for 1970s humour titles. Each weekly issue was structured around the seven-day routine of Cheeky, who would would chat directly to the readers and trade copious one-liners with a huge cast of fellow residents of Krazy Town. It had a full-on, bonkers tone to it with loads of very funny background detail, all drawn by the remarkable Frank McDiarmid.
Each day’s gag-peddling would end with a lead-in to one of the comic’s strips by other artists, which we would read as through the eyes of Cheeky himself. It would usually go something like this:
Cheeky does his paper round, a bulging bag marked ‘Sunday Sob’ sagging off his shoulder. In the last frame he would narrowly avoid being mown down by the Skateboard Squad, whose own strip would follow on the next page.
Cheeky would end the day snuggling into bed with a ‘James Bold’ mystery novel which would lead us into a two-page adventure serial. After the end of the first serial (Fangs of Fear, drawn by Massimo Belardinelli), Cheeky had to find new volumes of Bold's further adventures on the shelves of his local newsagent. Each week he would hatch a fresh plan to sneak in and read a chapter without paying for the book.
Cheeky would rush home from school to catch 6 Million Dollar Gran on the telly. This later moved to Sunday evenings.
Cheeky would make a secret visit to the attic for a sneaky read of a page from one of Mum and Dad’s childhood comics – a reprinted page from a classic comic from the 1940s or 1950s such as the original Knockout, Film Fun and TV Fun.
On Wednesday Cheeky was on babysitting duty, 'responsible' for the scheming Baby Burpo, whom he would try to scare to sleep by reading him a cautionary tale from his book of Creepy Sleepy Tales. Needless to say, Cheeky usually ended up more spooked than Baby Burpo.
The day would end with an invitation for Cheeky to watch his friend Oscar’s latest home movie reel – a comedy riff on a popular movie, drawn by Jack Clayton.
Cheeky would somehow get hold of a copy of The Mystery Comic – ‘that comic that we can never get in the shops’ – which would allow us to join him reading the fiscal japes of Mustapha Million.
The week would end with Cheeky and various pals going to the cinema, terrorising the Commissionaire and Ursula the Usherette, and watching a double bill of a reprinted Hannah Barbera strip and another adventure serial (initially Space Family Robinson).
It was a great idea for a new comic, mixing genuinely entertaining new material and a handful of reprints with relatively seamless ingenuity for most of its run (sadly during its last year it gave up on the conceit of Cheeky introducing all the other strips, leaving it not much different from all the other humour anthology comics on the shelves). Frank McDiarmid drew with fantastic imagination, often packing three or four separate visual gags into a single frame, and the vast range of recurring characters that Cheeky would meet on his daily rounds gave the comic an enormous cast list considering its relatively short two-and-a-half year run. Niblet’s blog presents a very helpful list of them all here, from Bump Bump Bernie and Gloomy Glad to Ding Dong Debbie and Granny Gumdrop.
The comic was one of only three new humour titles (disregarding the Disney-licensed publications) launched by IPC during the second half of the 1970s. The other two were Krazy – from which Cheeky sprang, shortly before it was merged into Whizzer and Chips – and Jackpot – which soon replaced it on the shelves. Its stablemates – Whizzer and Chips, Buster and Whoopee! – each had their own distinct flavours but their strips usually had a fairly traditional, late-1960s/early-1970s feel to them. While its forerunner Krazy had attempted to make its mark with a MAD Magazine-style absurdness, Cheeky went for a more streetwise identity. Strips such as Skateboard Squad and Calculator Kid were based on what were perceived to be the latest fads for kids of the day.
Calculator Kid – about a boy, Charlie Counter, who owns a talking calculator which tells him what to do – could have been reckoned to have been almost instantly outmoded by the invention of the digital watch calculator. In fact, change the name of his calculator to Siri and he doesn’t look out of place today, walking down the street nattering into his handheld device. The same could be said for Skateboard Squad – primary school kids on scooters still bomb down a South London street on my morning route to work with the apparent sole intent of bowling over pedestrians like skittles. The only thing differentiating them from the Squad is that the latter at least wore helmets and pads.
Cheeky was innovative and exciting, and appeared to cock a snook at the establishment through the chutzpah and street-brass of Cheeky himself. When chatting to a friend about the comic a few months ago, based on memories alone, we both described it as ‘anarchic’, but reviewing it again I’m not sure that that’s entirely accurate. The comic’s format and visual style was fairly anarchic for its day, sure, but the overall tone is rather late-1970s comedy-establishment familiar. A number of the characters are grim stereotypes – in particular by gender (blouse-straining traffic warden Lily Pop and placard-carrying, man-haranguing feminist Libby), race (comedy-voiced Gunga Jim, squinty-eyed tailor Ah Sew, jive-talkin Disco Kid and tight-fisted Uncle Hamish).
This bugs me. There is sexism, racism and all sorts of other isms to be found in most British comics of the 1970s and 1980s, but I think Cheeky is one of the more obvious and consistent offenders – possibly because it has such a large ensemble cast purporting to representa typical British town with a diversity of characters. Some might say this is just a reflection of how things were, that Cheeky was just a product of its time. Yes, that’s true, but it’s not an excuse for lazy prejudice. Discrimination was commonplace in the late-1970s but equality and inclusion weren’t unheard-of concepts. To ignore them was a choice – an easy choice in the climate of the day, but still a choice. I don’t believe we’re significantly more enlightened in our society, media or culture in 2015 and to make excuses for the past makes allowance for similar complacency today.
One aspect of Cheeky with which I recall being particularly fascinated was The Mystery Comic. As described above, The Mystery Comic was for its first year referenced only in cryptic terms – a comic that was fiendishly difficult for Cheeky to lay his hands on each week, but which the rest of Krazy Town seemed to conspire to get to him one way or another so that he could read the latest instalment of Mustapha Million. We had no idea what else was in this obscure publication until 30 September 1979 when, wonder of wonders, The Mystery Comic in its six-strip entirety started to appear as a pull-out insert in the middle of Cheeky itself.
I loved the cover of each issue of The Mystery Comic – a peculiar design in which the lead story was surrounded by a thick border populated by all manner of oddball characters, including Ena Sharples, the Mona Lisa and a man with a football for a head. That there was no explanation for any of these faces – nor for what appeared to be Sid’s Snake from Whizzer and Chips in the insert’s masthead – just added to the intrigue and the feeling that here was something truly different.
The contents of The Mystery Comic were fairly regular fare. The first story, Tub, about an obese boy, is as awkward to read today as Lily Pop and Gunga Jim. Why, Dad, Why? was about a lad who constantly asked his long-suffering, short-fused dad to explain everything. The Mystery Comic had its own adventure serial – Mystery Boy – which followed the travels across 1940 Britain, in search of his identity, of a young boy who had lost his memory when a crashing German bomber fell into the train in which he was evacuating London.
The wackiest of the line-up was Elephant on the Run, in which an elephant flees the circus pursued each week by ‘The Man in the Plastic Mac’. Mustapha Million continued; this strip used a fairly familiar British comics trope (see Tiny Tycoon in Whizzer and Chips and The Bumpkin Billionaires in Whoopee!, and Lord Snooty over in the Beano) – the ridiculously rich kid who could buy whatever he wanted for his pals. Mustapha’s unique defining characteristic was that he was an oil-rich Arab, and presumably a Manchester City supporter. And then there was Disaster Des, about a lad who strolls the land singing ‘Doody Dum’ oblivious to the trail of destruction he leaves in his wake.
An odd mix of stories made special by the enigma of the mini-comic into which they were gathered together. The Mystery Comic lasted nine months as a self-contained section of Cheeky, after which its strips were spread out through the rest of the comic as Cheeky itself gave up on its original gimmick of providing a Cheeky’s-world-introduction for each of the secondary strips. Cheeky the character announced this move with the on-message excitement that usually heralded a merger, but it was a damp squib. Cheeky by this stage (the summer of 1979) seemed to have lost much of its creative impulse and impudence, and there was less to distinguish it from its IPC humour stablemates. It was itself merged into Whoopee! in early 1980, by which stage I had already given up my subscription in favour of the new kid on the block, Jackpot.
It's time for another FREE GIFT! This week it's your very own cut-out-and-keep Cheeky Story Index. Just cut along the horizontal line and fold along the vertical line, pals! You can download it and print it off to start your very own Great News For All Readers! story index library here.