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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Yesterday's Papers - Shark Attack

It's May 1972 and in the Caribbean a fisherman makes a prize catch - as the fisherman struggles to bring in the Great White Shark he's caught, the powerful creature starts to fight back. The shark is almost brought aboard but when he is gaffed, the gaff snaps leaving the hook through the shark's mouth - from now on the shark will be known as Hook Jaw.

And so started the saga of Hook Jaw, which will be re-printed soon is full colour when Strip Magazine launches later this month. Hook Jaw was the lead story for the launch of the controversial comic book, Action (the British anthology comic and not to be confused with the American publication of the same title) and like the publication that carried it the story of the killer shark received much criticism in the media, as a campaign against Action Comic was born. The campaign would intensify until the comic was actually banned and then relaunched as a much tamer version.

The colour frame left (taken from the first episode) may seem tame by today's standard, but at the time that splash of red blood was truly shocking and not something ever seen in a comic book. At the height of the press hysteria against this new kind of comic, one commentator in The Sun newspaper called Hook Jaw, "A sadistic story designed to turn our children into blood crazed lunatics."

The Sun newspaper, it seemed, was fine with splashing some lovely tits over page three but a dollop of blood in a strip about a killer shark offended its sensibilities.

The kids who had discovered this new comic though were over the moon with this new gritty kind of storytelling. Jaws was a massive cinema hit at the time and the fact that Hook Jaw was merely a rip off of that movie, didn't matter. British comics had always taken their lead from the blockbuster movies. Dirty Harry's been reinvented several times by British comics, most notably as Dredger in Action and then Judge Dredd in 2000AD.

The second issue of Action carried an image of Hook Jaw swallowing a man, blood gushing everywhere that must have seemed positively pornographic at the time. But to concentrate on the gore is to do the strip a disservice, for Hook Jaw featured some mighty fine comic book writing. Created by Pat Mills and Ken Armstrong -

"Pat Mills decided that the shark should be the nominal hero of the strip, and that greedy and immoral humans were the villains. In the mix would be a human character the reader could empathise with, that of Rick Mason, who appears in the first two Hook Jaw stories, although his appearance in the second, like his head, is cut short. Most of the other humans in the strip are the dregs of humanity, and are deservedly disposed of by Hook Jaw in grisly fashion."    From the book, Action, The Sevenpenny Nightmare

"There were two complete and one unresolved storyline in the pre-ban issues. The first was set on an oil rig in the Caribbean run by Red McNally. McNally’s obsession with oil and wealth is at the expense of those around him. Initially his greed causes the deaths of divers and riggers, but as the story progresses we discover McNally isn’t averse to a spot of murder to get his way. Explosions, a hurricane, an airliner crashing into the rig, the U.S. Coastguard depth-charging the water around and other hazards are sent to test the characters. Through it all, Hook Jaw feasts on everyone and everything. Eventually, the rig destroyed and everyone else dead, Mason and McNally battle each other and the shark. Mason is wounded and drifts aboard a makeshift raft from which he is rescued by a passing sea plane. McNally takes on the shark in a final battle with the inevitable consequences pictured here, and what a fine episode that was." The Sevenpenny Nightmare

Hook Jaw constantly topped Reader's Polls and it seemed that each week more and more blood was used in the strip, but when Action was withdrawn from sale largely because of the media campaign against the title, Hook Jaw was never the same. When the comic returned in a sanitised version it was as if Hook Jaw had had all his teeth removed - he certainly no longer had any bite.

The best of Hook Jaw will be reprinted in Strip Magazine - apparently the original pages have been much improved using modern technology and the story will look better than ever - even better than the original because most 1970's UK comics were printed on cheap newspaper type paper and of course colour was limited.

Strip -launches Feb 2011

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