Review by Frank Plowright
The first hardcover collection of Ken Reid’s 1960s work published by Irmantas Povilaika was an astonishingly rich selection, but this second collection is slightly better by virtue of the specific strips. Queen of the Seas, Dare-a-Day Davy and The Nervs all play precisely to Reid’s strengths for the grotesque and calamitous.
Reid’s early 1960s Jonah starred a fondly remembered, enthusiastic dimwit sailor guaranteed to sink any ship he boarded long before Groo did the same. High seas incompetency is reworked for Queen of the Seas, Reid inspired by Neil Munro’s The Vital Spark, creating a gormless captain and a fearful mate causing ever more expressive disasters. They float several tons of sausage meat through locks in a giant sausage skin, they explode a World War II torpedo, and the left hand sample page is the result of their herring catching technology. Visually stunning from the start, ever more fertile plots escaped from Reid’s mind, the crew overcome by fumes from a centuries old dodo egg or an airship dragged to the bottom of the sea that escapes via a volcano, the passengers blissfully unaware. Walter Thorburn wrote a few episodes, but most are pure Reid, excess being his starting point for extravagantly staged disasters. Unusually, when he knew the strip would be ending, Reid provided a definitive finish.
Running for twenty months over 1967 and 1968, Dare-A-Day Davy occupies the most pages. Davy responded to reader challenges, their proposals adapted to scripts by Thorburn or Reid, although many submissions feature generic names, suggesting many dares were creator led. Challenges such as filling a policeman’s helmet with porridge or placing a hedgehog in his father’s bed almost compel contrivance, and even packing in up to eighteen panels over five tiers Reid can’t avoid it. These are rapid fire and gag packed, individually manic, but also repetitious, although it’s difficult to tire of the ways Reid finds to contort faces, especially when he introduces the Schizoscope revealing the dare suggester’s inner self. Included is a strip never previously used, the editors at the time feeling disinterring Frankenstein’s grave was a little too near the knuckle. Considering the audience, they were probably right, Reid presenting an insect infested skull that Davy has to kiss.
Three 1960s strips used tiny people inside humans affecting their behaviour. The Nervs was the best by virtue of Reid’s demented artwork. This wasn’t his creation, and as can be seen online, Graham Allen previously distinguished himself drawing it, but more adventurous Thorburn scripts enabled Reid to excel at the assorted discomforts prompted in Fatty’s stomach. Fatty’s gluttony is hilarious alone, Reid piling those dinner plates high, and fascinated by the body’s internal workings. There’s a parade of macabre small creatures inside Fatty, ostensibly there to keep him in good health, but usually managing the opposite. These creations appear in large numbers, giving Thorburn’s scripts a frenetic edge. Bad breath, Christmas gluttony, stuck fish bones… all are dealt with in gloriously poor taste. Unfortunately, after 23 spreads new publishers deemed the Nervs far too coarse, and according to Povilaika’s informative essay they decreed it should never be reprinted. It hasn’t been until now.
It’s a shame the colour from the original strips had to be reduced to grayscale, but immense detail, a refined sense of the absurd and a cartooning style nearer American underground comics than British children’s publications ensure Reid’s remembered. Some dated slang apart, the appeal is surely still present for young readers. This collection isn’t widely available via Amazon, can be found on Ebay, but the best value is purchasing direct from a website set up by publisher Povilaika.