Concerns over the comic's violent content saw it withdrawn from sale in October 1976. It reappeared the following month, in toned-down form, and continued publication until November 1977, at which point it was merged with "
Battle Picture Weekly". Despite its short lifespan, "Action" was highly influential on the British comics scene, and was a direct forerunner of the long-running "2000 AD".
It should not be confused with "
Action Comics", the American comic bookthat introduced Superman.
The title was devised in 1975 by freelance writer/editor
Pat Mills, at the request of publishing house IPC. It was intended to reflect the changing social and political times of the late 1970s, and to compete with DC Thomson's war-themed "Warlord" title. "Warlord" was a new type of British boys adventure comic, focusing on military action, with tougher heroes and storylines than had been seen previously. The title was a huge success, and inspired IPC to launch " Battle Picture Weekly" in direct competition. "Battle" had been created by Pat Mills and fellow freelancer John Wagner, and was also very popular. "Action" was intended to be more contemporary and 'realistic'. IPC's John Sanderswas chosen to edit the title, with Mills, Wagner, and Steve MacManuscontributing stories. The team evaluated several names, including "Boots" and " Dr Martens". The comic was briefly to have been called "Action 76", with the title incrementing each year, until it was christened simply "Action".
Many of the stories in "Action" were what Mills called "dead cribs", essentially rip-offs of popular films, books, and comic heroes. Rather than being a straight copy, the "cribs" in "Action" had their own slant on the idea. "Hook Jaw", for example, combined the graphic gore and shark anti-hero of Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster "Jaws" with environmental issues, whilst "Hellman of Hammer Force" was a "Warlord"/"Battle"-style
World War IIadventure told from the point of view of a German Panzer commander.
The first issue was published on
7 February 1976, with a cover dateof 14 February 1976. The comic was instantly popular, particularly for its gritty tone and graphic gore. Within weeks the media had picked up on the title's violent content. The London " Evening Standard" and "The Sun" ran major articles on the comic, with the latter echoing the Victorian " penny dreadful" by dubbing "Action" "the sevenpenny nightmare" (the cover price was 7p). Over the next few months "Action" was the centre of a campaign led by Mary Whitehouseand her National Viewers and Listeners Association to censor or ban the comic. IPC eventually started to moderate strips in order to forestall possible boycotts by newsagent chains such as W.H. Smith.
In September 1976 John Sanders appeared on the television programme "Nationwide", where he tried to defend the comic from a vigorous attack by interviewer
Frank Bough. Although "Action" remained popular, its days were numbered. Pressure within IPC's higher management, and alleged worries that the two major newsagent chains, W.H. Smithand John Menzies, would refuse to stock not just "Action", but all of IPC's line, led to the 23 Octoberissue being pulped.
The title returned on
27 November(cover date 4 December), but the violence was toned down, and the previous sense of anarchismwas replaced by a safer, blander feel. Stories like "Hook Jaw" were no longer drenched in blood and gore, but instead were full of safer and more reliable heroes, and traditional villains. Sales dropped drastically, and the last issue before merging with "Battle" was published on 5 November 1977- dated 11 November. "Battle" became "Battle Action" until 1982, at which point the "Action" name was dropped entirely.
"Action" was hugely influential in proving to IPC that there was a new market for a different type of boys comic, plus it proved boys adventure comics could have different genres of stories rather than focusing on one genre.
Mills learned how to deal with the launch of a varied, edgy comic when planning the launch of "2000 AD" the following year. The "Action" controversy did lead to some strips in "2000AD" being toned down and censored but "2000AD" managed to survive early attempts to compare the two comics.It's unlikely that "2000AD" would have ever turned out as it did were it not for the experience gained from "Action".Some strips with an "Action" feel were printed in early issues of "2000AD", "Flesh" (a story of time travellers from the future returning to the age of dinosaurs and killing them for meat. Things obviously go wrong and the humans end up being eaten) and "Shako" (basically the same concept as "Hook Jaw" but this time starring a
polar bearinstead of a shark) being two examples which show a clear "Action" influence.
"Action - The Story of a Violent Comic"
Titan Booksreleased "Action - The Story of a Violent Comic" written by [http://www.aber.ac.uk/tfts/staff/profiles/mib.html Martin Barker] . This was a history of the comic, as well as a study of the effects of the ban.In this book Barker revealed that 30 copies of the 23 Octoberissue were saved and the book prints many of the strips from that issue, plus following issues thanks to Barker coming into possession of unpublished art. However, this was an erroneous statement; a full print run took place but was pulped before distribution, and only the in-house preview copies survived.Fact|date=May 2008
The book reveals just how much "Action" was being censored at an editorial level, and the route the title was heading in before it was cancelled.
*"Hook Jaw" was created by Mills as a "Jaws" cash-in and the flagship title of the comic. The strip was scripted by
Ken Armstrongand drawn by Ramon Sola. Hook Jaw is a Great White Sharkand the hero of the series, even though he spends most of his time eating most of the human cast of characters. The name "Hook Jaw" comes from the gaff hook stuck in the shark's jaw after some fisherman tried to catch the creature shortly before being eaten by it. Mills gave the strip an environmental edge by having Hook Jaw eat corrupt humans, or criminals, seeking to exploit the seas, as well as anyone else unlucky enough to get near him. Hook Jaw appeared in three stories before the ban. The first was set on an oil rig, the second was set on an island resort in the Caribbean, and the third was set just off the south coast of England. "Hook Jaw" returned after the ban, but no longer ate as many people and if he did it was off panel. The strip also lost the environmental themes Mills had placed in it. Spitfire Comicsin 2007 released a collection of the pre-ban strips in "Collected Hook Jaw vol.1".
*"BlackJack" was created by
John Wagner, with art by Trigo. It told the story of Jack Barron, a boxer who fights to help poor kids knowing that he runs the risk of going blind. The strip was accused of being racist even though it was one of the first times a black character was the hero of a British Comic strip.
* "Death Game 1999" was written by Tom Tully. The series was a cash-in on the success of "Rollerball" and dealt with a lethal future sport played by condemned prisoners. Art was provided by Costa, Ian Gibson (2 pages) and
Massimo Bellardinelliamong others (John Stokes). The strip was almost as popular as "Hook Jaw". After the relaunch "Death Game 1999" became "Spinball", and turned into a formulaic adventure strip without the ambiguities which featured in the original.
* "Kids Rule OK" was written by
Jack Adrianwith art by Mike White; this series drew most criticism. London, 1986: A plague has wiped out the adult population, with the result that violent gangs of children run riot. The strip was instantly controversial with its heavy anti-authoritarian tone and extreme violence. The strip never survived the ban; two episodes were destroyed by IPC entirely, whilst those that did survive were heavily edited. A full version of the story, with a text insert to cover the missing episodes, can be found in "Action – The Story of a Violent Comic".
* "Hellman of Hammer Force", written by
Gerry Finley-Day, was the story of a German Panzermajor. It established a pattern followed by "2000 AD" for having unconventional or unsympathetic characters as the hero. The strip returned after the ban, but stripped of its politics became a conventional war adventure story.
* "Dredger" was a tough "
Dirty Harry"–type agent. The strip was popular due to its increasingly bizarre and violent action scenes. The strip survived the ban, but like the others became a conventional adventure strip.
* "Look Out For Lefty" was an unconventional football strip based on the adventures of Kenny Lampton, a working-class teenager whose powerful left foot gave him the nickname of "Lefty". It was unlike any other football strips in British boys' comics at the time, due to the fact that the strip would include football
hooliganism, as well as Lefty's not always being a clean-cut hero. The violence on display in the strip mirrored the real-life football violence taking place at the time, most notably during a game between Aston Villaand Rangers. After the ban, the strip became a conventional " Roy of the Rovers"–type strip and removed any hint of controversy. The strip was written by Tom Tully, with art from Barrie Mitchell and Tony Harding.
Battle Picture Weekly"
*"Action: The Story of a Violent Comic" (by Martin Barker, 286 pages,
Titan Books, 1990, ISBN 1852860235)
* [http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/ComicInformationPages/ActionPages/ActionCharactersAndStories.asp List of "Action" characters at comicsuk.co.uk]
* [http://www.britishcomics.com/Action/index.htm Action - The Britishcomics.com view.]
* [http://www.sevenpennynightmare.co.uk/contents.htm Action - The Sevenpenny Nightmare, the definitive 'Action' site.]
* [http://www.fearful-symmetry.co.uk/action.htm Comic Strip Hooligans - The story of the banned comic Action]
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