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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Denis Gifford And The Birth Of The British Super Hero

I have written a number of times about one of the Founding Fathers of British comic book history, Denis Gifford (the other Founding Father is, of course, Alan Clark).

Denis worked on many comics as a scripter or artist -or both.  He also created many comic book characters. He should also be credited as being creator of the first British super heroes. 

The first of these, of course, was Mr. Muscle (no, not that advertising character from TV). Mike O'Leary stumbles across a body in a dark alley -the man speaks:"Quick! Car BOL 1570 ohhhh!"  The man is dead. Mike sheds his every day clothes to reveal "the famous uniform of Mr. Muscle!"   it doesn't take the costumed hero long to track down the Japanese saboteurs in "The Invasion Plans"

"Britain's Superman" was the work of a seventeen years old Gifford in 1945 and appeared in a tuppeny (2d or two pennies) eight-pager titled Dynamic Comics.

"Mike O'leary drinks the essence of strength" is something I have read.  This is odd since when I asked Denis his response was "No origin. He just appeared and went into action!"   That was the norm in those days  It was produce an action story.  No time for long convoluted explanations.  Unless Denis forgot (!) I think this is a mistake on someone's part.  I know Denis had a copy of the comic but he never ever let anyone borrow or take anything away to copy.

The intention had been that this was "Britain's Superman"!

In 1947 appeared Streamline Comics.  The hero was...guess? Streamline who was billed as "The Fastest Man Alive!".  The first of the four issues was drawn by AC1 (Air craftsman 1) Denis over a weekend as a Duty Clerk in the Royal Air Force.

Denis designed the costume and gave scientist Keenan King an origin: he injected himself with Elixir-X and became a speedster.  "The first thing to do is to get a skin-tight uniform" says Keenan.  What else?

The character was a collaboration between Denis and Bob Monkhouse (creator of The Tornado and Pat Peril).  Issues 2-4 were drawn, badly compared to Gifford's work, by Bryan Berry who was to go on to become a top Sci Fi auther.

 Below: some sources (who have NOT done their work) claim Berry "drew the cover to #4"  whereas he was the artist of interior art as well.

 Cardal Publishing is said to have gone out of business due to court cases over the "erotic" books they published -UK obscenity laws were very draconian at the time and even saw "saucy seaside" postcard artists such as Donald McGill prosecuted.  In fact, Denis very strongly hinted at the publisher being "very shady" and taking the money and running.  That does seem far more likely!

In 1949 appeared issue number 1 of Ray Regan. Regan was a hard nosed 'tec and you'll notice from the cover the banner reads: Ray Regan -Also Tiger Man!  I used to have a full colour image of this but everything saved to 3 inch floppy disk was lost back in the 1990s!  Still better than nothing.  Find a scan anywhere else if you can (if you do please let me know!).
 Denis Ray, an American comic fan sent me scans of the Tiger Man strip and I thank him!  I should have asked for a cover scan!

Basically, the origin of "The mightiest man of action"  goes as follows.  Phil Britton and Professor Beauclerc are in deepest, darkest Africa when Britton is attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger.  Yes, a tiger.  Go with the flow.  The tiger dies and Britton develops great strength.  The Prof. not really qualified in my opinion, believes to tiger died after its power flowed through its sabre teeth into Britton.   Hey -Timely (Marvel) Comics character The Whizzer got his powers after a "transfusion of mongoose blood"  Go figure.

There seem to have been a few tigers in deepest and darkest Africa according to UK comics.  And, yes, I came up with an explanation linking them all.  But that's another matter.

Britton is shown in tiger-skin pants (yewch!) so the assumption is that he was to be one more jungle lord (there was one every 5 square miles back in the day).  But when I asked Denis about this I was told that had there been a second issue, Britton would have been back in the UK in a Tiger Man costume that Monkhouse had sketched out.

That was it.

Denis was quite happy to see his characters get a new lease of life and thought Mr. Muscle and Streamline running around after Robert Lovett (Back From The Dead) was "a hoot!"

Now there were heroic characters before these three -but they all conformed to the British norm for powered action heroes: civviy- clothes.  TNT Tom is a prime example.

Dennis M. Reader was to later bring forth more costumed characters but Gifford was first in 1945.

Today all of this seems to have been forgotten.  After all, if it isn't in full colour or after 1998 and Marvel or DC it doesn't seem to matter.  But let's give credit where it is due!

And very few ever got into the Gifford Fortress to look at his collection and I think the last ones to do so were the Thames TV crew in 1985.  Watch and be amazed.

original feature (c)2016 Terry Hooper Scharf

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