When Monster Fun Comic arrived on the newsstands across the UK at the beginning of the Summer of 1975, it was joining the IPC children’s humour comics family, its senior siblings at the time being Buster, Whizzer and Chips and Whoopee! Two other comics – Shiver and Shake and Cor!! – had folded the previous year.
Differing from other IPC comics, MFC sported not only a cover date but also an issue number. What’s more, MFC issue numbers 2 to 5 only had the number – but no date. The seventies was a turbulent period in the UK with the country experiencing an economic crisis, so when the editorial staff were preparing the early editions of the comic, they were in no way certain when it would even appear in the shops due to the frequent printing stoppages being caused by industrial action.
Edited by Bob Paynter, MFC was another attempt at the comedy horror genre by IPC. Shiver and Shake had played the theme half-heartedly because only a part of the comic was supposedly spooky. With MFC, the publisher went all the way, resulting in a paper chock-full of funny horrors.
Not that they were genuinely scary, of course, but monsters nonetheless: ‘Kid Kong’ (the banana-obsessed son of King Kong); ‘Draculass’ (the daughter of the infamous count of Transylvania); ‘Creature Teacher’ (the monstrosity manufactured by desperate teachers in a chemical lab and put in charge of the unruly class 3X); ‘Invisible Monster’ (who gradually became visible as the story progressed); plus ‘Freaky Farm’, ‘Teddy Scare’, ‘The Little Monsters’ and so on.
Other ‘horror’ strips included ‘Martha’s Monster Make-Up’, featuring a girl whose jar of monster make-up transformed people and objects into monstrous things; ‘Brainy and his Monster Maker’ featuring a boy who invented the world’s first monster-making ray gun; ‘Major Jump Horror Hunter’, an adventurer who collected all sorts of weirdies for his monster menagerie; ‘Tom Thumbscrew the Torturer’s Apprentice’, a strip that was set in the dark Middle Ages and offered a weekly helping of dungeon humour; ‘March of the Mighty Ones’, an adventure serial about runaway mechanical monsters; and ‘Terror TV’, a strip about a TV channel with a mission to terrify its viewers by running weekly monstrous parodies of popular TV shows. There were a few traditional strips too, such as ‘X Ray Specs’, ‘Art’s Gallery’, ‘Dough Nut and
Rusty’ and ‘Mummy’s Boy’. The most interesting feature of the non-horror variety was probably ‘S.O.S. (Save Our Stan)’, a clever combination of a comic strip and a puzzle, somewhat like an interactive game where the main character couldn’t do without the reader’s help.
The total number of strips that appeared in MFC over its short life of just 73 issues was rather small, with only 26 in all. In comparison, the 79-issue run of Shiver and Shake managed more than 40! In retrospect, we now know that five of the twelve features introduced in the premiere issue of MFC (‘X-Ray Specs’, ‘Kid Kong’, ‘Martha’s Monster Make-Up’, ‘Draculass’ and ‘Mummy’s Boy’) outlived the comic and were transferred to Buster when the two titles merged a year and a half later. ‘XRay Specs’, in fact, survived till the very last issue of Buster (by which time it was most certainly reprints).
The stellar team of MFC artists included two giants of British comics: Leo Baxendale, whose ‘Badtime Bedtime Books’ were his swansong in comics, and Ken Reid, who illustrated ‘Martha’s Monster Make-Up’. Experienced humour artists such as Robert Nixon, Mike Lacey, Trevor Metcalfe, Terry Bave, Sid Burgon,
Norman Mansbridge, Les Barton and Andy Christine were also part of the team, as was Mike White who was in charge of ‘March of the Mighty Ones’ – the only adventure serial in the paper. MFC also recruited a host of young artists who soon became regulars in UK comics – Tom Paterson, Tom Williams, Jim Watson,
Barrie Appleby, Nick Baker, Ian Knox, Vic Neil and others.
MFC even had its ‘Honorary Editor’ and host, who would turn out to be none other than Frankie Stein the friendly monster! Originally created by Ken Reid for Wham! comic of the mid-60s, the character was revived in Shiver and Shake, to then find himself in Whoopee! when the two titles were merged in 1974. Thanks to Robert Nixon’s brilliant art and the efforts of IPC script-writers, the character had formed a solid fanbase in the days of Shiver and Shake during 1973 – 1974, and continued to prosper in the combined Whoopee! and Shiver and Shake. That’s probably why Bob Paynter decided that putting him (notionally) in charge would do good for the new paper. It is quite surprising how much of Frankie there was in MFC: in addition to contributing the odd ‘editorial’, running the ‘Letters to Frankie’ section and making a few frontcover appearances, he featured regularly in ‘Frankie’s Diary’ and ‘Freaky Frankie’ strips, and was also the host of the ‘Ticklish Allsorts’ feature; he even got a pull-out poster, and one of the booklets was dubbed ‘Frankie Stein’s Pull-Out Book’ – never mind that he didn’t even appear inside…
MFC had quite a few innovative reader participation features of which ‘Master Ugly Mug and Miss Funny Face’ facepulling contest surely was the most hilarious. Readers could embarrass themselves to their hearts’ content by sending their silliest mug shots to MFC in the hope of winning themselves £2 if their
picture was published. ‘Finish-A-Fiend’ was another readers’ favourite: every week they were asked to finish a freaky figure that an MFC artist had started off for them.
Winning attempts were published on a weekly basis and contributors were rewarded with £2 prizes. Nine £1 prizes were handed out to the senders of entries for the ‘Monster Hits’ chart of top 10 gags, while the contributor of the week’s charttopper collected £2. A crisp one-pound note was up for grabs for each potty playon-words idea used in ‘Art’s Potty Pictures’. Generous cash prizes were also paid for the best entries in the ‘Invisible Monster’ challenge in which readers were invited to send the drawings of their idea of what the invisible protagonist of the weekly strip looked like. Frankie Stein also joined the fun, offering £1 for every letter published in the ‘Letters to Frankie’ section. Some fans went the extra mile to
make sure they got this: one clever boy claimed he was an alien from planet ‘Scaro’ who needed Earth money to buy MFC with. Another ‘correspondent’ lamented that he was held captive by a mad professor who made him take hate potion to despise MFC, so he needed the money to bribe his kidnapper to release him so that he could enjoy MFC again…
Readers also demonstrated their creativeness by proposing new story ideas, such as ‘Draculad’ – Draculass’ fellow character who was born underground with a stake in him… Other grim story ideas included ‘Midnight in the Cemetery’, ‘Midnight in the Haunted House’ and so on.
Initially MFC was quite adventurous with its front covers. In 1975 ‘Sid’s Snake’ could always be trusted to be on the cover of Whizzer and Chips while ‘Bumpkin Billionaires’ never failed to appear on the front page of Whoopee! By contrast, Buster rotated its cover stars on a weekly basis, but ‘Buster’s Diary’ was always present nonetheless. With MFC one never knew what to expect; it would feature ‘Kid Kong’ one week and ‘X-Ray Specs’ a week later, followed by ‘Martha’s Monster MakeUp’, and subsequently by an
advertisement-style cartoon of some kids, a copper and a green monster, followed by ‘Creature Teacher’, and then by ‘The Little Monsters’, and so on. The striking whiteon-red logo and the dominant yellow
background colour made the comic instantly recognisable on the newsstands but otherwise those early covers had little in common. The practice continued throughout 1975 and ended in issue 35 when the front page was permanently given to ‘Gums’– a clever and funny tie-in with the blockbuster Hollywood movie ‘Jaws’
MFC may have not delivered too many strips, but it was surely the champion in terms of the number of pull-outs amongst its IPC siblings. Only a handful of those 73 issues did not have a pull-out booklet,
poster, game or something else to cut out, which makes the quest of building a full set of complete issues a collector’s nightmare. As many as 43 of the pull-outs were the fondly-remembered Badtime Bedtime Books. These were centre-page pull-outs which were meant to be removed from the comic, cut up and arranged into eight-page minibooks. Each book was a selfcontained whacky story. Unfortunately, the printing presses of Fleetway Printers in Gravesend, Kent often failed to do them justice.
Leo Baxendale wrote about Badtime Bedtime Books at length in his book A Very Funny Business, and that’s how we know it was Bob Paynter who created the concept and gave it to Leo Baxendale to develop.
The mid-70s was a time when Baxendale had grown disillusioned with the comics industry and was looking for an opportunity to quit because he felt it would soon fall into decline. Although he was excited about the BBBs, from the very start he had planned to use them as a ‘test bed’ for his new ideas, as well as being a vehicle to manoeuvre his way out of comics.
The first BBB received glowing reader feedback which Leo Baxendale compared with reaction to his very early ‘Bash Street Kids’ in THE BEANO, and he immediately knew he was on the right path. Significantly, adults wrote in too – a clear indication that something very special had appeared; adult letters like these were a new phenomenon for IPC comics. Unfortunately, pressing deadlines prevented Baxendale from producing a quality ‘vintage’ book every time. He gradually divested himself from other strips he was still drawing for IPC, concentrating single-mindedly on the BBBs, but he still didn’t have enough time to do them as he thought they should be.
As a consequence, he adopted a loose sketchy style, producing a vintage set only once in a while. This was also the time when Baxendale started contemplating a series of his own ‘Willy the Kid’ annuals;
he no longer had the time to write BBBs, and eventually stopped drawing them too, leaving Bob Paynter with a huge challenge of first finding the writers and later the illustrators to match Baxendale’s talent.
By the time Bob Paynter had to put together the first issues of 1976, he had already run out of Baxendale’s BBBs. The notions of ‘MFC’ and ‘pull-out something’ had already become inseparable in the
minds of the young readers, so the magazine had to live up to its image. Posters were the obvious solution. As many as eight appeared early in 1976, featuring ‘Creature Teacher’, ‘Gums’, ‘Kid Kong’, ‘Terror TV’ and others. There was even a ‘Badtime Bedtime Book’ poster in No. 36! In the meantime, Bob Paynter
tried a few other artists, including Artie Jackson, Leslie Harding and Terry Bave, all of whom turned out not quite up to the task of drawing the BBBs. Things improved with the arrival of Mike Brown who was able to imitate Leo Baxendale’s style to perfection. The Editor must have been satisfied because towards the end of the paper’s run the frequency of BBBs had been restored to its previous level. Mike Brown proudly initialled or signed most of the sets, so he too must have been pleased with his work.
The imminent issue with the ‘important news inside’ came with the cover-date of 30th October 1976, and starting from 6th November 1976 Monster Fun Comic was merged into Buster to become Buster and Monster Fun. The centre-spread of the last issue showing a crowd of MFC characters marching to meet their new friends in Buster, would be the final MFC pull-out. IPC always made their ‘special’ announcements sound as if a merger was great news, but many readers surely didn’t see it that way…
Nevertheless, Buster would give the comic a good home, keeping the MFC name on the cover for nearly three years until 25th August, 1979.
Only two Monster Fun Comic Summer Specials were published (1975 and 1976). Interestingly, the first special was put together and launched almost simultaneously with the weekly.
Monster Fun Annuals outlived the weekly by a wide margin: the last book came out for the Christmas of 1984 with a cover date of 1985. Buster and Monster Fun Summer Specials continued even
longer, all the way to 1995. Recently Buster and Cor and Monster Fun Specials have been released by Rebellion with Monster Fun returning this Easter every two months.
This article appears in the History of Comics 1976. You can purchase the book here at Get My Comics or become a Friend of ComicScene and get all the books plus the weekly ComicScene News for £20 a year or £2 a month in digital here