Monday, February 04, 2008

Gaiman Cuddles!

Art: Yow! It's Bunny Cuddles, scarfing down the jam!

At precisely 2:22 AM this morning, I finished the transcription of the interview tapes from Hank Wagner and my trip out to Neil's house back in November. It's turned out quite nicely, if I may say so myself -- not least thanks to Neil's willingness to answer my many follow-up queries and fact-and-spell-checking questions via email since December.

There's not much I can share with you here, as we're saving it all for the book, Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, which will be coming from St. Martin's Press later this year. I can tell you the interview clocks in at well over 27,000 words and covers a lot of ground, both archival and fresh; it contains a lot of fresh revelations and insights, and it will be current.

One thing I can share with you today, though, is what turned up as Neil tried to find some online info and art on the British weeklies he grew up with -- particularly the children's comics he cut his eyeteeth on (literally). These were the comics wee li'l Neil loved and loved, as much as l'il Mikey Dobbs loved mayonnaise and l'il Stevie B loved dinosaurs. Mind you, Neil was also into Gilbert & Sullivan at the same tender age, so don't dis the man.

Fred White's strip Billy Brock, the wee schoolbadger, shown here with his best friends Robert Rabbit and Hector Hedgehog (from young Neil Gaiman's fave weekly Playhour, 1955-64)

Warning: If you have diabetes, or suffer from cuteophobic tendencies, you might not want to click the following links!

While Neil recalled Sooty off the top of his head during our November conversations, the other woodland animal children's comics he harbored fond fetal memories of didn't come to mind so easily. As of late last night, we were still volleying emails across the Continental US to one another, from one wintry wonderland to another. The turning point came when Neil wrote, "I just spent some time establishing that the comic was Playhour and it was (I think) "the wonderful tales of willow wood". In my memory it looks like Ron Embleton art, and terrifyingly, according to Wikipedia, it might have been..."

While Neil sought online info, I scoured my hardcover histories of British comics for information. According to Denis Gifford's venerable The British Comic Catalogue, the weekly comic Playhour was launched in May of 1955 by Amalgamated Press/Fleetway/IPC, and Gifford doesn't mention Embleton. Gifford lists artists like Peter Woolcock, Fred White, Basil Reynolds, Philip Mendoza, Harry Pettit, Hugh McNeil (or McNeill?), Fred Robinson, Cyril Price, Bert Felstead and others as the brains and hands behind features like (ready?) Prince the Wonder Dog, The Gay Gordons, Dicky & Dolly, Mimi & Marmy, Sonny & Sally, Wink & Blink, Peter Puppet in Puzzleland, and others. There is a "Willow Wood" listed in the 1957 issues, but my faves based on name alone remain Wonderful Island of Yam, Moony from the Moon, Pinky & Perky, Wizard Weezle and Num Num.

How can I resist? It's Billy the Blue Tit! (from Jack and Jill Annual Book 1957-1958, art by Harry Pettit and F. Seale)

There was a "breakaway character," or a character whose popular spilled over into other weeklies and, according to Neil and online sources, television. That was Sooty, whose first appearance in Playhour pops up in 1959-60, at least a couple of years after the finger-puppet bear was already a TV sensation for preschoolers and youngsters. Sooty already had his own title, too, so I reckon Playhour needed Sooty way more than Sooty needed Playhour! In any case, Neil turned up
  • this gallery of Sooty Annuals covers, gems one and all.

  • But then, again, it appears that it was the jam-lovin' Bunny Cuddles (drawn by Hugh McNeill -- or is it McNeil?) that had won young Neil's heart as a mere lad. He's not positive; Neil remembers the strip he loved as being in color, "although it says this strip was in B&W...," Neil wrote me, after he found
  • this link to Bunny Cuddles and friends -- choke!

  • Me, I'll stick with 'Hamster Balls.' And I'll leave it to Neil to explain that reference on his blog, when he's damned good and ready, hopefully with a link to my own blog to win me more virtual cuddly pals...

    Philip Mendoza and Gordon Hutchings illustrated the adventures of Gulliver Guinea-pig, here having a cup o' volcanic-brewed tea (Playhour, 1958-65) -- and no, he doesn't have hamster balls. Not like I do -- or did!

    Have a Moony from the Moon Monday!

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    Blogger Mark Martin said...

    I love those old Jack & Jill books! You know I do! I have a few, and hope to find more when I go back to UK soon.

    I don't recognize any of the stuff you are showing here, and I gotta say, the stuff in MY books is better!

    No, wait - Billy Bluetit looks about right, like the stuff my books. And all that other stuff is from Playhour? I'm definitely a Jack & Jill man myself.

    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    That stuff is pretty cloying. From a less innocent age.

    The only thing along those lines that I quite enjoyed was Doctor Doolittle. I ate that stuff up until I got sick of them around the fifth or sixth book. Then my mom gave me THE ILLUSTRATED MAN when I was eight years old and I was never the same.

    Blogger Neil said...

    C'mon. I was three...

    Actually, the odds are good that what I'm remembering is a 1964 Annual, which means that comics that were in black and white weekly would have been in full and glorious colour for their once-a-year outing.

    My favourite of all the annuals is my treasured, and now coverless, copy of THE DALEK WORLD from 1966. (You can see pictures at

    Blogger ~ tOkKa said...

    -->> ..** for some reason ..after reading of N.G.'s childhood fancies..

    i'm humming the tune to "Wombles of Wimbledon"

    ~~ ~~ ♫ ♫


    Blogger Gene K. said...

    I can't wait to discover the mystery of "Hamster Balls."

    -- Oh, wait! I already know it! (Reason Number 32 why everyone should become a Necon Camper: You get to attend The Roast...)

    Blogger K. A. Laity said...

    Hee hee -- I thought I had stumbled onto a mirror site of Cute Overload!

    Ditto, what Gene K said: Necon and the whoohoo. Glad to see you'll be back, Steve.

    Blogger Steve said...

    Lovely to see these characters are so fondly remembered (by Neil) and are finding new fans (yourself). I knew all the scanning I did for the L&L website was worth doing.

    Bunny Cuddles was indeed drawn by Hugh McNeill and, later, by his former assistant Pam Cooper and others; the example of Gulliver Guinea-Pig you show was by Philip Mendoza and you can find more on Gulliver here...

    ...and more on Mendoza here...

    As for The Wonderful Tales of Willow Wood, they were drawn by Peter Woolcock (Ron Embleton painted a number of centre-spread fairy stories for Playhour). And Sooty was painted by Gordon Hutchings...

    Harry Pettit did the painting of Billy Blue Tit.

    Hope some of the above is of interest.


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