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A richly atmospheric cover from 1965: artwork from Charlie Grigg. From the author's personal collection

Dan

Special Korky promotion of the 1980s. Picture kindly supplied by Steelclaw

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A guest appearance from Keyhole Kate

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A barely recognizable Korky from DANDY issue 2, (Dec 11th, 1937). Thanks to Steve Zodiac for supplying this image

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A classic Korky cover from 1958

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What tuppence bought you in 1955

Korky the Cat is one of the most instantly recognizable characters in UK comics history, and also one of the longest running. Although his star has undoubtedly declined in recent times, his name and visual appearance are probably still synonymous with the Dandy as much as Mickey Mouse is with the Disney organization: only Desperate Dan himself has enjoyed more enduring success, when it comes to widespread fame associated with this comic. Even many adults who have never picked up a comic for years, as well as much of the non-comic-reading public, have certainly heard of, and would recognize a picture of, this character.

It all began way, way back on December 4, 1937, when the cat was selected to star on the cover of the debut issue: early editions depicted the moggy in pantomime, slapstick-like cavortings, possibly inspired by Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmers' huge cinematic success with Felix the Cat during the silent era. The very early Korky was clearly more cat-like than the version we recognize today, although it wasn't long before original artist James Crighton imbued him with more Disney-like anthropomorphisms, which undoubtedly accelerated his popularity among readers.

Crighton proved to be an excellent choice as original Korky artist. Before long, the cat's world was fully developed, with many incidental characters inhabiting the strip: street-kids, tramps, policemen, soldiers and all manner of 'supporting characters' who made up everyday 'walk-on' creations who were required for Korky to 'act' against. Seen today, Crighton's work looks dated in some respects, but there's no denying the skill, charm, story-book-like quality, and, above all, appeal factor that makes his work so attractive and entertaining, even to modern eyes. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why vintage copies of the Dandy are still so sought after today.

After around three years of silent Felix-like frolics, more depth was introduced to Korky's character with the use of word-balloons, with the first-ever quotation from the cat being: 'Let's ask the butcher for some sausages!' This was another charm-filled scenario, as Korky assists some ravenous-looking street pooches, much to the chagrin of the onlooking, furious butcher. Eventually, Korky became truly 'house-trained' and domesticated, moving into a fully-furnished, all-mod cons (by early Forties standards) semi-detached home, complete with well-maintained garden. By this time, he had evolved into almost human-scaled proportions, and looked around four feet tall in comparison to the human characters who populated the strip! Such was the sureness of touch within this fantasy world, however, that the reader was never alarmed or disorientated by this perplexingly impossible character.

Another novel facet to emerge once Korky became domesticated was the introduction of the many mice who inhabited his home, snaffling his grub and executing all manner of elaborate practical jokes on him. This element saw many oneupmanship-styled gags of the Tom and Jerry type come to the fore, with either party reigning triumphant, depending on who deserved to win that particular week.

The wartime years of 1939 to 1945 affected all walks of life in Britain including the world of comics. This meant the inevitable cut-backs due to paper-shortages (the Beano and the Dandy were allowed to continue, though only once a fortnight each, probably as much-needed morale-boosters at the time). Korky was called up to 'do his bit' against the forces of fascism in many delightful WW2-themed escapades set in airbases and so forth. Usually very imaginatively structured, these issues are understandably revered as highly-prized collector's items today. Korky's unbroken run as comic-cover star was disrupted in 1945, when for some reason (lost in the mists of time) Keyhole Kate managed to scoop the coveted cover spot for one week only. (See the main Dandy page for images of this odd diversion).

Post-War Korky shenanigans continued with customary zeal and zest, with Crighton's artwork attaining more polish and gloss as the Fifties unfolded. Comic production was at its highest ever in this era, and this original version of the cat was brilliantly expressive, with many nods and winks directly to the readers, as the artist honed his skills to ever-higher heights. Indeed, even in comparison to Dudley Watkins' Biffo the Bear of this 'Golden Fifties' period, the quality of artwork was very high indeed, and if Biffo could have three diminunitive bear nephews, so then could Korky be blessed with three almost-identical kitten-nephews (Nip, Lip and Rip) who surfaced in this period. The generally austere Fifties saw Korky high above street-level celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, in a typical gesture of D.C. Thomson uber-patriotism.

All good things come to an end however, and James Crighton penned his final Korky contribution on the cover of the Jan 13, 1962 Dandy. His successor was the highly-accomplished cartoonsmith Charlie Grigg, and if this newer artist had a style noticably different from the early Crighton delights, Grigg was another happy choice of Korky artist. His highly-attuned style differentiated between comic slapstick and more dramatic illustration, and he was more than up to the challenge of turning out an impressive variation of old Korky. Although the Crighton original is understandably the Korky of choice for readers of a certain vintage, for many readers the Grigg version is the definitive item, as the powerful fantasy images of the cat put out during the Sixties and Seventies made for sterling front covers, easily equalling those put out by the Beano, and quite possibly surpassing them in some instances.

Elements associated with the Grigg Sixties Korky included the oft-seen gamekeeper, who is often outsmarted by the natural feline cunning exhibited by the cat. A slap-up feed of fish, especially salmon, was a key image during this period, although, refreshingly, the subject-matter covered on the front cover encompassed all manner of topics, from circus parades to football matches. The legions of mice that plagued Korky's house returned in force in this era, and the mice were reflected in the Grigg style, with usually black fur and white chest plumage. The quality of gags and artwork in this period was as on-par as anything from the Crighton era, and if anything, there was even more welcome
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Korky smokes! (1948)

experimentation than before, with extreme close-ups of Korky's visage coming to the fore on occasion.
Korky the cat1940

The cat speaks! Korky's first-ever use of a word-balloon, in Dandy issue 149 (June 9th 1945 issue). Picture sourced from main Wikipedia

Having disappeared during the Xtreme era, Korky returned in the new look Dandy in October 2010.

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