Monday 3 December 2018

Bullet, 40 years on...

Last summer, on holiday, we visited Whitby (a town all three of us loved) and, quite by chance, I discovered a retro shop on Baxtergate (it was next door to The Whitby Cobbler, but appears to have closed down now) and couldn't resist a look around.  At the back of the shop was a big section full of old comics and I found three boxes full of Warlord, Battle, Crunch and Bullet comics and was completely in my element (when I took my haul to the counter, Dude asked “are you sure you’ve got enough there Dad?”).

Bullet was my favourite comic growing up, as I previously wrote about here and over the rest of the holiday week, I read through my stash and those old strips sparked all kinds of fantastic memories - stories I’d forgotten all about but remembered the moment I saw the masthead, images that had burned themselves into my brain and tales that grabbed my attention.  It was fantastic and so, in honour of that wonderful comic of my childhood (which, forty years ago, on 2nd December 1978, merged with Warlord), here’s an appreciation of Bullet.
Bullet was launched by D. C. Thomson on 9th February 1976, “packed with action stories - fast and furious” with Fireball (the comics figurehead and main character) preparing the reader for his “super thrill-packed story [and] other rough, tough action stories”.  Focussing on action & adventure, science fiction, war and sport, it was a popular boys comic that ran to 32 pages and started out at 7p an issue.

17th July 1976 issue back cover, featuring Bullet writer (and future D C Thomson
editor) Garry Fraser as Fireball)
Fireball, a moustachioed, highly skilled and multi-talented secret agent, appeared in his own strip every week (it sometimes ran to 9 pages) and was the ward of Lord Peter Flint, from the same publishers weekly comic Warlord.

Other stories included Twisty (a footballer with attitude who raced pigeons in his spare time), Smasher (a 50-foot city-smashing robot who was finally destroyed by being nuked), Wonder Mann (raised by computers to become a world beating all-round sportsman), Midge (a 16-year-old 7-stone weakling who became a bodybuilder - one my favourite strips), Tasker (a tearaway with a chip on his shoulder learns to box in borstal), Three Men In A Jeep (a self-explanatory World War Two adventure) and Vic’s Vengeance (a tall of revenge set in the East End of London) and Solomon Knight who introduced a weekly tale of terror.  There was also Werewolf (an ex-detective gained the power to turn into a werewolf and used it to fight crime), Ginger (a greyhound and his master who was on the run from an abusive stepfather) and Frontline UK (a Scorpion tank crew fights a guerilla war against invaders in Britain during 1978).

Fireball Calling appeared weekly and included trivia, password messages and competitions.  Reader letters got a Fireball t-shirt and the letter of the week won an electronic pocket calculator, which was a big deal then.  There were also sports profiles, often featuring footballers and fact files, while the back pages often carried “A to Z” entries on various topics.

There was also the Fireball Club where, for 25p (postal orders only, please), you got the Fireball story (which also acted as the decoder for the Top Secret messages in Fireball Calling) in a red plastic wallet, an ID card and, best of all,  the Fireball ‘Flaming F’ pendant (which was not only very cool, it was worn constantly by Fireball and saved his life on occasion).
But even great things end sometime and, as was often the way with favourite comics of my childhood, this meant merging into a bigger title.  Bullet succumbed after 147 fantastic issues and joined Warlord (with issue 220) on December 2nd 1978.  I carried on buying Warlord for a while even though, as was always the way, most of the strips I enjoyed didn’t make the transfer with the rest fading out as the weeks or months rolled on.
As an aside, rival publisher IPC released the first issue of Action two days before Bullet and while the comics were meant to compete - they shared the same format and price - that wasn’t really the case.  Much keener to push the grittiness envelope (and it was great fun), Action suffered a media furore that saw it last 36 issues before being pulled and neutered.  It ran for a further 50 issues and merged into Battle in November 1977.
left - in Whitby with Dude, 2018 - right - with my sister Tracy, sporting my Fireball pendant, in 1977
Thanks for the entertainment Bullet!

The first copy I ever remember seeing, during wet playtime one day at Rothwell Juniors.  I was so excited about it, my Mum had the newsagents reserve me a copy every week afterwards.
I loved this Denis McLoughlin cover so much I chose it to copy in an art school class, the first year I went to Montsaye.  I remember my teacher not being particularly impressed with my choice...
Cheerio then Bullet (and farewell Fireball...)

Sources (and further reading):
Downthetubes interview with Garry 'Fireball' Fraser
Downthetubes interview with Bill Graham
Colin Noble's 40th anniversary tribute
Lew Stringer - Action-vs-Bullet
Bear Alley on Warlord


  1. Great post Mark, I don't remember much about Bullet, but I did buy that first copy of Action the previous week, pocket money funds being limited I stayed with that title and missed out on Bullet. Seems like I denied myself some great stories.

    1. Thanks Jasper - I had a similar dilemma but went the other way :)

  2. What a haul in Whitby! Fantastic covers, more like graphic novels than a comic - definitely ahead of its time. Thank you for posting this, it's taken me right back to my childhood!

    1. You're welcome and thanks for commenting! The artwork is definitely superb, isn't it?

  3. Great to see this online. I bought Fireball for years. I had the pendant, the plastic wallet (still remember the smell!) and the code book. Smasher was my favourite, then 3 Men, then Twisty but they were all great.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting. Have you revisited the comic at all? I got a load from ebay and it's good stuff, even now. Wish I'd kept my pendant and wallet!