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Dec2008005-6

The first full-colour escapade: September 20th, 1969

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Manically outrageous exploits, from the technicolor-hued glory days

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Visual absurdity, worthy of Tex Avery

Puss 'n' Boots is, in all probability, the most enduring success within the proud history of Sparky comic: it was the brainchild of a gifted cartoonist with a unique, vital style, and it also forged a brand-new type of scatological humour within the publication, which reached out a million light-years beyond the mostly traditional fare of some of the other strips within.

Indeed, only Les Barton's I SPY alone could claim to be more innovative and original within the comic: however, that strip reached creative burnout eventually, and ended up being a watered-down version of past glories. Puss 'n' Boots, on the other hand, remained more consistent, and was rendered solely by the original creator who 'gave birth' to the battling pair: John Geering (1941-1999).

The strip appears to have been the very first comics work seen in print by the artist, and it joined Sparky just a few short months after the radical Feb '69 change in direction. Ultimately this strip in particular would sum up perfectly the zanier, more freewheeling aspects of the 'new direction ' manic humour that so often characterised the comic's output in the very early Seventies.

The stories, of course, detail the often violent and animated cartoon-like exploits of the cat and dog, who can't stand each other, to the point where elaborate, all-out war is often launched. The definite violence depicted within is of the Tex Avery type, and highly stylized, although there were mildly disturbing images of extreme wounds, bumps and other physical abuse (like fur literally ripped from skins) that certainly equalled some of the worst excesses put out by Ken Reid, for example.

The first ever outing was released to an unsuspecting public on 21 June, 1969 (issue number 231), and the very early incarnation was somewhat roughly hewn and not all that appealling. There was little to suggest the heights of surrealist fancy that was to instil the future of the strip: early on, it was a black-and-white, somewhat crude, watered down version of Tom & Jerry. But even in the very early exploits, there was a charm and vitality in there, that surely must have endeared itself to Sparky readers (or, at least, to 'Chiz', the celebrated editor) as the strip was definitely given the benefit of the doubt, and allowed to flourish. The rewards reaped by this healthy, far-seeing approach manifested within the artwork and gag-themes before too long.

Firstly, though, there was a dicey period where the strip was relegated to half-page, monochrome interior status (after only a few weeks): was this a sign that the newborn strip was to 'die' so soon after being born? Not in the slightest, as preparations must have been going on behind the scenes, and the strip benefited immeasurably from being granted the full-colour back-page slot, where it remained in residence from September 20th 1969 until autumn 1973, where the format would expand further still. It is a mark of the faith that Chiz placed in John Geering's undoubted potential that the brand new strip was granted the desirable back-page slot after such a short time.

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Humble beginnings: the very first outing (issue 231)

Reprints in Classics from the Comics and elsewhere (including Champ) usually give preference to the later two-page version of the strip, to the point where the back-page one-pagers are rarely published — and therefore, largely, uncelebrated — in modern anthologies of vintage comics. This is most unfair, as around 200 usually high-quality, well-drawn outings are now largely neglected by the industry and even by many fans: a real shame, as the strip was at its most potent and experimental during its long run on the back page, in my estimation. There was a far greater range of subjects tackled, and it was astonishing to witness the sheer quality of John Geering's artwork flourish within a short span of time: quite likely the fastest improvement ever achieved for a new 'funnies' artist this entire decade.

 

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