Monday, 21 January 2019

Nostalgic For My Childhood - The Crunch comic at 40

Forty years ago this week, D.C. Thomson launched a new comic called The Crunch (cover dated 20th January 1979), edited by Bill Graham.  Warlord aside, it was a bit more brutal than their usual fare in, according to some, an attempt to compete with rival publisher IPC’s 2000AD.  At the time, ten-year-old me wasn’t too bothered, I was just happy I’d found a new comic after the demise of my much-loved Bullet comic the previous December.
The first issue, with its free black wristband and selection of stickers, declared itself “a whole new experience in boys' papers! It's for the boy of today - packed with never-before told stories with true life features on the men who have faced the crunch in their lives.”

The lead strip was Arena, where a corrupt 21st Century government treated those who spoke against it as criminals and sentenced them to fights to the death in an arena.  The next story featured Bearpaw Jay, a bounty hunter known as The Mantracker who was not averse to bending the rules to get his man.  I loved this strip, which was violent, well paced, occasionally amusing and often brutal (in that first strip, an innocent bystander got shot in the guts by a bank robber, which wasn’t something you saw every day), all beautifully drawn by Alberto Salinas.  The Kyser Experiment was a bit tamer, where Dr Kyser performed experiments on a football team to try and make them unbeatable.  The Walking Bombs (they kind of did what you expected them to) opened with military leaders being blown up by a nuclear explosion, which set the scene perfectly (and featured cracking artwork from the always dependable Denis McLoughlin).  I was never a fan of Hitler Lives! and I now can’t tell if that’s because the storyline didn’t interest me (which is likely) or the artwork of Patrick Wright left me cold.  Who Killed Cassidy, featuring a conspiracy around the assassination of American president Jack Cassidy, rounded out the issue.

Over the course of its run, Crunch (I don't think I ever used 'The...') also showcased some other terrific strips.  Crag featured the eponymous Detective Sergeant, framed for a bullion robbery he wasn’t involved in, who escaped from prison to bring the real criminals to justice.  The Hit Man concerned Hugh Marston, an undercover government enforcer who went around the world bumping off various baddies, with great espionage tropes (coded messages, secret rooms and the like) and ingeniously designed weapons - I loved it.  The Mill Street Mob was another favourite, a school based strip (The Mill Street Comprehensive), that was absolutely perfect for me as I prepared to move from Rothwell Juniors to Montsaye Comprehensive (I don’t remember having the same level of adventures as they did though).  There was also Clancy And The Man, Programmed To Kill, Plague 2000 (which seemed to blend elements of Damnation Alley and 2000AD’s The Cursed Earth), Space Wars, Striker From Nowhere, Starhawk and Operation Omega.  It also featured Ebony who, according to Billy O’Brien at his Starhawk site was “not only the first female action heroine in a boys comic but also black, which was groundbreaking stuff for the time”.  Ebony, an agent of the British Special Mission Squad, had been created by Bill Graham for a new girls comic which never happened but the character was "was too good to waste, so I brought her into The Crunch."
Top - The Crunch mission statement.  And yes, the badge in issue 3 was a skull on a big pin (can you imagine the fun if they tried that today?)
bottom left - Andy working on his letters page - bottom right - the first issues sticker selection
As well as a whole host of special features on sporting heroes, stunts, examples of bravery and true-life tales, Crunch featured that staple of seventies comics, the letters page.  In this case, it was The Crunch Question, hosted by ‘Andy’ (the man in the photograph was actually a D.C. Thomson editor called Euan Kerr), who offered advice to the boys (and occasionally girls) who wrote in.  The letter of the week won a 'super calculator' while all the writers featured got £2 (it doesn’t say if that was cash or postal orders, though I’d bet on the latter).  Andy, who was generally helpful, was obviously toeing the party line though, often taking the side of parents and teachers and admonishing those writers who wanted to be out playing football with their mates rather than learning the piano.
Two of the "hero galleries" - Starhawk from issue 39 and The Hit Man from issue 46
I liked Crunch a lot but unfortunately lost my copies over the years.  I picked up a few off ebay but then found some (along with the Bullet's I wrote about here) in a retro shop in Whitby and bought a load.  Re-reading those issues was great fun, not only as a nostalgic blast but also a chance to realise how well presented - both in terms of writing and artwork - they were and how unfortunate it is that kids today, like Dude, are missing out on this kind of thing.

Unfortunately, as often happened, there weren’t enough fans like me at the time and Crunch ended with issue 54 (cover dated 26th January 1980).  It merged with Hotspur on 2nd February 1980 (their issue 1059) and while I hung on for a while, the older comic was too tame and most of my strips quickly disappeared.  There were never any annuals or summer specials, though some characters appeared in the 1983 Hotspur annual.  Sadly, The Crunch now seems almost forgotten today.

Ebony leads the charge at the end of the line...
One of the banes of my childhood life, as a much-loved comic gets absorbed into another...

I have very fond memories of the comic, the characters and the great cover art and the stories still stand up really well, making for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Happy 40th, The Crunch - you certainly entertained this "boy of today"!


Sources:
Lew Stringer’s “When It Came To The Crunch”
UK Comics Wiki
The Starhawk Crunch site
Down The Tubes interview with Bill Graham

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