Monday, 25 June 2018

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Summer Specials

Sometimes, when Dude & I are talking, he asks about things I had when I was his age (ie, back in the early 80s) - it amuses him we didn’t have video games, that the Walkman hadn’t been invented, cameras were things you had to carry separately and phones were wired to the wall.  I can see why he’s amused but I still have a yearning for that time, when things were perhaps a bit simpler, because sometimes I believe they were better.  And as we drift towards summer, that presents the perfect example - the Summer Special!
1979
Children’s comics now aren’t a patch on what they were back in the 70s and 80s (and even before that, I imagine).  Back when I was an avid comics reader, DC Thomson and Fleetway published a whole raft of weeklies that catered for most tastes, presented on pulpy-paper with a splash of colour, that kept us entertained.  That’s not the case now - take a look in any newsagent and supermarket and you’ll only see a few titles, sealed in plastic bags with all manner of doohickies included, like stickers, trading cards and cheap plastic toys you just know will fall apart before the day is out.

As kids, if we were off on holiday (or a substantial car trip) or had a lazy day in the back garden to look forward to, a Summer Special was a real treat.  A one-off edition of the weekly comic that was thicker and more colourful (and generally had a glossy cover), it gave your favourite characters a new location for adventures - Roger the Dodger at the seaside, say or Billy Whizz enjoying his summer holiday - or offered up longer stories, as happened in the Marvel comics imports.

You don’t really get Summer Specials any more and comics historian Lew Stringer (on his excellent blog) suggests that “today's retailers dislike them because they occupy valuable shelf space for too many months.”  He goes on to say, “the other reason is down to how comics themselves have evolved. With regular UK comics now being full colour glossies, how can a Summer Special stand out as "special"?”

Fleetway launched a Jack And Jill Summer Special in 1961 and Odhams, in 1962, produced one for Eagle.  After publishing a combined Dandy/Beano Special filled with reprints in 1963, DC Thomson launched individual Specials for both, with brand new material, the following year.  When IPC took over Fleetway in 1968, the format of the special changed, gaining the glossy cover and more pages.  The Summer Special really took off in the 70s, with seaside towns (in particular) ordering extra copies since they were pretty much guaranteed sellers - after all, those kids (a new batch every week) needed entertaining!

I think it’s a shame Dude has missed out on the pleasure of the Summer Special and here are a few from my golden-era of reading them (the late 70s and into the early 80s).  What were your favourites?
1972 - I didn't know this existed until I started researching this blog but I really want to see it!
1976 - war comics were a staple part of my childhood
1977
1977
1977 - I wrote a retrospective blog on Bullet here
1977
1978
1978
1978
1978 - depending on how quickly we read our own, sometimes my sister & I would swap comics
1978 - I wrote a retrospective post on Look-In here and looked at the cover art here
1978
1979
1979
1979
1980
1980
1981

Thanks to Lew Stringer for the history and comicvine for some of the scans.  See also David Barnett’s excellent blog piece at The Guardian.

6 comments:

  1. The memory does linger on ... My ten-year-old son still gets the Dandy and Beano summer specials every year. But it's not the same, and seaside holidays are missing something without a rack full of summer specials to choose from in the newsagents.

    The ones that resonate most with me are the Wombles, Doctor Who, the Pink Panther, TV Comic and (for some odd reason, as I never got the weekly comic) Playhour.

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    1. Brilliant, thanks for the comment.

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  2. I'd forgotten Summer Specials, Mark. As you say, they were ideal reading in the holidays. Good to see which got top billing - I'm with you there. Although I don't particularly recall the summer special version, I do remember Warlord being launched and, for a while, it made a big splash with kids my age (I'd have been about 12 or 13, and was looking for something a bit more grown-up.

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  3. There's another excellent blog called Crivens you can feel free to mention if you like, MW. (However, I won't try to 'persuade' you.) You may be interested in my own post about Summer Specials, which if you haven't already read, can be found here:

    http://kidr77.blogspot.com/2012/09/sunny-summer-specials-of-yesteryear.html

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    1. Thanks for this, Kid, that's a great post (and I like your blog a lot).

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