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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Britain's Banned Comic - the Action story

I remember it well - it was Valentine's Day 1976, but I wasn't in the least concerned with romantic matters. Hey I was eleven years old and at that age girls were just an annoyance who couldn't play football - come to think of it, nothing really changes. No I was more interested in a new comic book that was launching.

Of course we didn't know it at the time, but there was something different about Action. John Sanders, Pat Mills and Geoff Kemp were the men initially in charge of developing the comic for IPC who had scored a great success with Battle Picture Weekly and wanted something equally gritty but far more contemporary. The comic went by the name of DR Martins (a kind of boot favoured by teenage hooligans) for it's first few months of development before being changed to Action 76 and eventually Action.

And so it hit the shops - at first it seemed like any other British boy's comic and hardly original - cinema hits Jaws and Dirty Harry were ripped off in Hook Jaw and Dredger respective. There were the war strips, the sports strips and the adventure strips.  But unlike other comics the stories did for the most part depict the grimness of the 1970's streets - streets that the working class readership could identify with.

After only two issues the title gathered controversy - The Sun newspaper attacked the full colour blood in Hook Jaw and the extreme violence in other strips, under the headline The Sevenpenny Nightmare. The campaign against the comic intensified. Mary Whitehouse, leader of the Viewers and Listeners pressure group was appalled and appeared on several national TV shows complaining about the comic's violent content.

The outburst against the title continued and pressure built to such a level that W H Smiths and John Menzies, then the biggest distributor, decided that they would no longer stock the comic if the violence and content was not toned down. As a result Action was withdrawn from sale on October 23rd 1976.

When the comic returned in December the content and style had been considerably toned down to such an extent as to castrate the title. Gone was all the blood and gore and stories were full of much safer characters.

Sales went down almost immediately -  The comic limped on until it was merged into Battle Picture Weekly where it existed in name only until 1982 when Battle dropped the Action name, but by then Battle too was losing its way.

It's a shame Action hadn't been left alone to continue its development along the road of both gritty realism and OTT content. I often think it would have matured into something very special. After all no other comic would ever tackle the political issues of the day in well written adventure stories. It was all escapism at the end of the day and the anti-Action movement was, as always, ill informed and led by hysteria.

Below are several of the more iconic Action covers:

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