The Life And Times Of ‘Monster Fun’

❉ Funny Horror For Kids! Andrew Screen looks back on the weekly comic that embraced the full spectrum of horror.

Before the advent of the home video player horror was seen in a different cultural light in the UK. By the middle of the 1970s horror was hugely popular in both print and visual formats and seen as an everyday field of entertainment acceptable to all ages. The visceral paperbacks of Guy N. Smith and James Herbert happily co-existed alongside the ‘safe’ scares of children’s TV shows such as Shadows (1975-1978), Children of the Stones (1977) or the downright bizarre King of the Castle (1977). Horror was embraced as fun and healthy.

A weekly comic aimed at seven to twelve year olds, attempting to put the fun into the fearsome, and reflecting the current trends in horror would be unfeasible a decade later. The advent of video nasties and a new wave of graphically powered horrors from the USA, which made full use of advances in special effects make up to gross out viewers, changed all that. It was a different world, not cuddly or fun. However, British comic publishers IPC attempted such a comic not once, but twice before the cultural tide turned. Monster Fun was their second attempt at horror humour following on from the short-lived Shiver and Shake which had run for just shy of eighty issues between March 1973 and October 1974. Monster Fun is the more well remembered of the two and tackled the seemingly jarring cultural clash of horror humour with memorable characters and artwork with their roots and inspirations firmly derived from classic horror and genre cinema. Monster Fun embraced the full spectrum of horror.

Ported over from Shiver and Shake was Frankie Stein, a green skinned and lanky limbed iteration of the Frankenstein Monster who had been created by Professor Cube. Instead of starring in his own strip he was promoted to role of editor of the new comic and would chat to readers via various competitions and the letters page. In doing so he fulfilled a similar role to a horror host in an anthology TV show or presenter of late night horror films on American TV. Also transferring to the new publication was the best of the comic strip creators from Shiver and Shake such as Leo Baxendale and Robert Nixon.

On a balmy Saturday 14th June 1975, in the middle of a heatwave that was just a warm up act for the following year, the first issue of Monster Fun landed in newsagents and as a horror obsessed nine year old I instantly fell in love. Handing over my 6p and clutching my copy, with the free gift of a plate wobbler (an inflatable rubber bladder you could allegedly conceal under a plate) I hurried home marvelling at the Robert Nixon drawn cover which proclaimed “Meet Kid Kong and his freaky friends in this crazy new comic…” The cover featured Nixon’s creation Kid Kong and the comic strip nakedly indicated it’s inspirations by saying that the character was the son of the famous King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). Kid was not quite at the ‘absolute unit’ proportions of his renowned film star father but he was able to escape from an abusive travelling fun fair that had him on starvation rations of his favourite food… ‘nanas. Kid sets off to seek a new supply of ‘nanas and traumatises a department store security in the process of licking him to check if he tastes of his favourite fruit. Kid then proceeds to attire himself in a tight fitting school blazer and cap before he is eventually adopted by Granny Smith. The elderly lady with poor eyesight and hearing mistakes Kid for an orphan and adopts him so she can ‘bring him up properly’. Myopic and partially deaf old dears are a mainstay of kid’s comics, but the character can also be seen as fulfilling the same role as the blind old man, DeLacey, in Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale). Both are deprived of their senses but are kindly in nature and do not see their companions as monstrous figures. The strip tended to concentrate on Kid’s everlasting hunt for ‘nanas which usually resulted in demolished houses, crushed buses and Gran chastising him to tears.

(Free gifts were also given away with further issues. A ‘freaky spider ring’ came with the second edition whilst the third issue had a ‘super shaking skeleton’.)

The next comic strip was X-Ray Specs which featured a school kid, Ray, who is given an unusual pair of spectacles by an eccentric optician called I. Squint. The glasses enable Ray to see through solid objects, but unlike his namesake, the actor Ray Milland in the film X: The Man with X Ray Eyes (1963, Roger Corman), he is not driven insane. Instead Ray is able to embark on a series of japes, near misses or thwarting the school bully each week thanks to magic spectacles. The gargoylish artwork of Ken Reid enlivened Martha’s Monster Make Up. The eponymous character was the daughter of horror film studio employee who works for Mallet Films, a pun on Hammer which went entirely over my head at the time. He gives her a spare jar of monster make up he found in a dressing room and Martha finds that instead of enhancing her looks the potion has the opposite effect, temporarily transforming her into all manner of grotesque creatures. Reid’s imaginative artwork excelled in presenting the hideous monsters she becomes and some may have just possibly invaded my dreams as a child! In her debut episode Martha scares her mum so much that her hair literally curls!

Another highlight was Dough Nut and Rusty by Trevor Metcalfe which was set in the then far off times of the year 2075. This was a tale of two robots trapped in a hellish circle of one-upmanship towards each other whilst working for the Posh family as servants. Dough Nut was a self-proclaimed “most expensive and exclusive robot ever constructed” whilst his rival Rusty was an antiquated tin can headed machine well past his scrapping date. Each week the snobbish Dough Nut and the down at heel Rusty would compete to outdo or outwit the other often resulting in the destruction of the family home.

Grizzly Bearhug… Giant was a variation on Jack and the Beanstalk. A family is transported (by a giant beanstalk) in their caravan to a land above the clouds. The ending of the first episode is probably the closest Monster Fun came to proper horror with a cliff-hanger that sees the caravan and occupants about to be eaten by Grizzly Bearhug. “Yum! Yum! Meals on wheels!” exclaims the giant as he prepares to munch down… Art’s Gallery, drawn by Mike Lacey, saw a young man inherit a house with a collection of unique paintings. The subjects come alive and in the debut instalment help to thwart an art thief attempting to steal the works of art from their new gallery space. The strip has DNA with several other similar haunted artworks presented in horror film and TV. The horror anthology series Night Gallery features a painting with a figure coming closer to the viewer in the story ‘The Cemetery’ (8th November, 1969) whilst the more recent The Conjuring 2 (2016, James Wan) has a painting of a demonic nun spring to life for example.

One of the highlights of each issue was Badtime Bedtime Storybook, a small eight page pull out mini-comic in the centre pages, usually written and drawn by the legendary Leo Baxendale. These slices of demented genius are one of the major factors why the short-lived comic is so well remembered and highly collectable. However, Baxendale found the effort of producing a new story every week tasking and later issues were handled by ‘ghost’ artistes who mimicked his style so the quality of the artwork and storylines varied. The run of tales in the early issues are pure gold though! A brief run through of some of the titles gives you a small hint of the lunacy on display and the stories pastiched; ‘Jack the Nipper’, ‘Robinson Gruesome’, ‘Dr Jackal and Dr Snide’, ‘Marzipan and the Japes (Planet of the Apes)’, ‘The Underwater World of Jacques Custard’, ‘Doctor Poo’ and ‘At the Apple’s Core’.

Comic veteran Terry Bave created and drew Draculass – The Daughter of Dracula. This vampire child spent her time living with her relations Maisie and her parents and feasting on the exposed necks of the neighbours and family friends. The strip flaunted established vampire lore with Draculass able to go about her business in daylight though she did sleep in a coffin and was repelled by garlic. The strip was inspired by the classic Universal horror film Dracula’s Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer) though the lesbian subtext present in the movie was not adopted.

Every humour comic of the era had at least one adventure story and Monster Fun’s was March of the Mighty Ones which had full size robotic dinosaurs rampaging in the modern world years before Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg) was a twinkle in the eye of Spielberg. The robo-dinos are the product of special effects for Anvil Film Productions (another Hammer reference) who are hit by a bolt of lightning and activated in their aggression mode. Soon the monsters have left a trail of destruction across the country with the son and daughter of their creator the only ones able to destroy them one by one. As the story progressed real-life dinosaurs gave way to more fantastical creations such as a camel and horse mash up that fires bolts of electricity.

Every comic of the day had at least one school based strip though in the case of Creature Teacher the classroom was ruled with an iron fist, or rather tentacle, by a gelatine mass that looked like it has escaped from The Quatermass Experiment (1953, Val Guest). This monster of a master was created by Mr Fume, the science teacher at Massacre Street School in an act of desperation to control the unruly mob that made up Class 3X. Creature Teacher was able to sprout tentacles at will, each holding a cane in order to discipline his students. He was also known to grow to super-size, consuming the school itself as well as transform into various forms such as a bat-monster or caterpillar-monster. With his bulging, blood-shot single eye and his wobbly body encased in padlocked chains you didn’t mess with this master! Artist Thomas Williams had great fun with this macabre creation and he was a personal favourite of mine.

Perhaps the most sinister strip was Tom Thumbscrew who was a medieval torturer’s apprentice. Rather than branding with hot irons or stretching his prisoners on a rack Tom would employ such tactics as tickling their feet in order to make them crack. Although non-violent the strip had a mean spirited atmosphere and sneaked in many references to S&M which went totally over the heads of readers in a less jaded era. Surprisingly this element never seemed to come to the attention of diligent parents or the authorities. The not so popular Cinders was a fairytale dragon who wore lipstick and was besotted with knights clad in armour. Each week she would set out to find romance which resulted in comedic chaos for the medieval kingdom she lived in. Readers were evidently not impressed and her adventures only lasted for the first twelve issues before she vanished never to be seen again.

Two further strips were introduced in issue two. The truly macabre Mummy’s Boy, from the inkwell of Norman Mansbridge, was the tale of an almost teenage lad dominated by his over protective mother. The poor fellow was forced to wear nappies, a bonnet and baby clothes as well as being pushed around in an oversized pram by his swaddling parent. Everything he tried to do was deemed as being too dangerous or for bigger boys so it is no small wonder that each week he tried to rebel or escape the domineering clutches of his mum. This never ended well and he would end up injured thus justifying the twisted world view of his mad mother. The strip took Monster Fun into the previously unexplored realms of psychological terror with its own version of hag horror and probably unintentionally even touched on issues explored in once-seen-never-forgotten We Are Cult favourite The Baby (1973, Ted Post).

Later strips of note include Terror TV, a channel of chills run by the skeleton Magnus Murkysome (named after the then current Mastermind presenter Magnus Magnusson), which broadcast from a creepy looking castle in the middle of a normal looking town. Each week the strip would parody a popular television programme of the time by giving it a monstrous spin. Memorable examples included That Was Your Life (based on This Is Your Life), Celebrity Scares (Celebrity Squares), Supercronic Pop Show (Supersonic), Scareski and Lurch (Starsky and Hutch), The Ghoulies (The Goodies) and Doctor Whooooo (Doctor Who).

Freaky Farm was about an evil farm where everything from the machinery and farm animals to the actual buildings would scare away trespassers or visitors. For example the farm hand was just that – a man-sized hand with legs that brandished a pitchfork at city folk. The most enduring of the later strips (debuting in issue 35) was Gums based on the blockbuster movie Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg). Here the comedic shark is toothless with false teeth and is forever thwarted from chowing down on swimmers by losing his dentures. The strip became the regular cover star of later issues and transferred to Buster after it was merged with Monster Fun.

Banner image for the revived Monster Fun comic (© Rebellion)

Sadly, just like Shiver and Shake, the comic ran for only a few years with just over seventy issues before it merged with Buster in October 1976. Several strips including Gums, Kid Kong, Draculass and Martha’s Monster Make Up all made the transition and lasted up until comic mergers in 1982 and 1984. The comic itself continued with Summer Specials and nine annuals from 1977 until 1985. The original Monster Fun still has a healthy following and issues with their Badtime Bedtime Storybook inserts still intact are highly collectable. The story does not end there as events have transpired for the comic to return from beyond the grave. In September 2021 the publishers Rebellion (who own 2000 AD) unexpectedly announced they would be relaunching Monster Fun in April 2022 as the UK’s first on-going humour comic for kids in 30 years. Alongside familiar faces such as Frankie Stein, Kid Kong and Draculass there are new strips like Scare Salon and Hell’s Angel. Some monsters just will not stay dead, and in this case that is entirely welcome.

❉ Published by IPC, ‘Monster Fun’ ran for 73 issues, published weekly from 14 June 1975 – 30 October 1976. Two Monster Fun Specials were printed in 1975 and 1976.

❉ Andrew Screen writes on things film and television by night and by day is a SEN practitioner with thirty years’ experience. He has written for Action TV and was editor of the magazine’s website for several years. His work has been published in Creeping Flesh Volume 1 and 2 (Headpress), The Sapphire and Steel Omnibus (Pencil Tip Publishing) as well as Horrified Magazine. His guide to Nigel Kneale’s Beasts is forthcoming from Headpress in 2023. Twitter: @aneercs

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