Review by Win Wiacek
If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid as one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, artistic prodigies who – largely unsung and regularly uncredited – went about transforming British Comics in the 1950s and 1960s. He entertained millions and inspired many to become cartoonists too.
All his working life, Reid innovated, constantly devising new strips, and was always open to fresh opportunities. This collection gathers a quartet of series he created for football comics weeklies Scorcher and Scorcher and Score: both specialist boys’ periodicals blending strips, photo-features and general sports journalism dedicated to the beautiful game.
Preceding them is text feature by Reid’s son Antony J., describing the circumstances that saw a man with no appreciable interest in or knowledge of football accept an offer from a desperate editor and pull off a hat trick (plus one!) of unique series. It was by displaying the seldom seen side of the great scribbler: his inspirational and ironclad professionalism and admirable have-a go attitude.
As suits the nature of the magazines, each Reid picture riot (originally running from January 1970 to mid-1972) is individually hilarious, but in total formulaic. Moreover, Reid was meant to be a half-time palate cleanser. Straight football comics content was already covered by traditional strips.
His first outing is ‘Sub’, with unfit, unloved and decidedly fiendish Duggie Dribble on the touchline. He’s always there because as well as being hated by Biggleswick Wanderers’ manager and other players, Dribble was useless on the field. His disappointment turns to malice and he spends his days trying to take out his own teammates just to get a game. Each episode is a single page masterclass in black comedy, macabre timing and grotesque excess that would do the Addams Family proud.
Subsequent ‘Football Forum’ takes a satirical and often absurdly surreal swipe at TV pundits as a panel of experts answered questions posed by readers. The panel included referee Percival Peeps, Centre-Forward Charlie Cannon and a guest speaker carefully tailored to deliver maximum laughs.
Arguably, Reid’s most well-regarded contribution was Manager Matt. Pompous and self-important Matt was fortunate enough to be passing by Mudchester United’s ground just as the corrupt and doddering Board of Directors agreed that what they needed was a complete fool to take the blame for their mismanagement and malfeasance. Soon the perfect scapegoat was in situ: a man who knows nothing about anything. It’s the perfect set-up, because the stadium is a shambolic neglected ruin and the players are little better than beasts and bullies. Manic and compulsive, these tales are less about football than the fundamentals of slapstick comedy, but they are astoundingly entertaining.
Concluding this first foray into football fun comes a strip you can’t help but feel is Reid being utterly honest with himself and the readers. ‘Hugh Fowler – The Man who HATES Football!’ is very much the prototype of Basil Fawlty fulminating and thundering over his loathing for the Beautiful Game. Each week he attempts to spoil matches, maim players and even excise the sport from the ken of mankind. He even tries to remove the sport from libraries and stop the printing of Scorcher and Score, but somehow his divine crusade never achieved its aims.
This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities as absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque. They’re painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This is a treasure-trove of laughs to span generations.