“WILLY THE WOEFUL WIZARD”
In September 1966 `Sparky comic` underwent one of it’s frequent `overhauls` in which it brought in new stories and `fun pals` along with two weeks of free gifts! Issue 86, September 10th 1966 saw the arrival into the comic of `Willie the Woeful Wizard` for a 31 week run of truly surreal and very funny adventures.
The `Willie the Woeful Wizard` strip was not especially unique as magic based stories were common in fun comics, but the artwork and plots were superb! Bill Mainwaering drew it to finely detailed precision, which complemented the surreal flavour of the storylines. I can honestly state, that in my opinion Bill Mainwaerings artwork on the `Willy` strip is the finest I have ever seen in any `fun` comic.
Willie was a tall thin, wiry bespectacled fellow who had long blond hair and slightly prominent teeth. He had a rather `scatty` personality and often got himself into awful muddles. Early on in his adventures he got around on a broomstick which was most unwizard like until he acquired a second hand magic carpet from one `Genie Kelly`.
Willie worked for the king in the land of `Pom`. He carried out many varied tasks which presented readers with wonderfully innovative storylines. His magic didn’t always go as planned, otherwise the `scrapes` he got into would have never happened! Of course, when things really mattered, Willy always came through.
Willie’s first task was to acquire some dragons to help Pom fight off their aggressive neighbour’s army. Pom’s enemy was the nation of Quagar which was ruled by a czar who had visions of conquest. Willie needed help from the `With it Witch` who sent him on an errand before she would help him. It was while on the errand for the witch that Willie first encountered `Genie Kelly` (an actual genie who lived in a tree) they became friends.
The next adventure saw Willy under orders to cheer the people of Pom up a bit by the king (who didn’t like sad faces) Sadly, Willie’s spell misfired and everyone (including the king and Willie himself) couldn’t stop laughing! Willie needed help from a young pretty maiden called `Ally Lulia` before he set things to right. She too became a good friend. Part of the story saw very daring references to 1960s drug culture by mentioning `Junk` being smoked and `Mescalweed` which was a thinly disguised reference to the actual hallucinogenic drug, Mescaline! Very daring indeed!
Next up was the `Bongovian Cup Competition` where Willie encountered old enemy, one `Aldofini` who was court wizard to the Czar of Quagar. Willy entered the competition hoping to win the cup for Pom and put one over on the czar of Quagar whose entrant was the villainous `Adolfini`.
Unfortunately for Willy the union of magicians realised he had used up his quota of magic for the year and withdrew his powers! Willy made his way to Bongovia after entering the `Palm Court hotel which was a mirage.
Willy rode an imaginary camel he hired at the hotel but it disappeared once he forgot to believe in it! He finally made it to Bongovia but his chances at the competition were hopeless with no powers. Seeing Willy’s plight the evil Adolfini ordered his henchmen to abduct Willy out in the desert and kill him. Luckily for Willy, the king of Pom on hearing how his powers were `taken away` ordered the magicians union on point of execution to restore them.
With his powers restored Willy duly won the competition but Adolfini went and stole the cup from under his nose.
The next story went into outer space where Willie and the court scientist, flew by rocket to the planet `Pars` to search for a rare metal needed for Pom’s Marmalade mining process. Willie once more encountered the evil Aldofini on Pars! Adolfini was forcing the Partians to work for him. Happily, Willy freed them and a grateful people gave him as much metal as he could carry.
We next see Willie tasked to fetch back royal princess Sophie for an arranged marriage from her finishing school in `Twitzerland` only, Sophie wants no part in it! This story featured some very funny scenes involving a giant and a crooked innkeeper, both of who had stolen Willie’s flying carpet and tried to ride it with disastrous results. Both the `With it Witch` and `Ally Lulia` appeared in this story.
The next tale was that of a `Slimming Potion` for the king. The King of Pom is fed up of being so fat, but can’t keep to a diet, so he orders Willie to make him a slimming potion. Knowing his own shortcomings with such concoctions, Willie wisely tests it out on the royal elephant first! He is right to as though the elephant certainly loses weight it doesn’t decrease in size at all! In fact, the poor pachyderm floats up into the sky, taking its keeper along for the ride!
Willie gives chase on his flying carpet and soon catches them up. Eventually the elephant’s weight begins to come back and it floats down into the crater of an extinct volcano. This is inhabited by Henry the Horrible Hermit who resents `intruders` and begins lobbing rocks at Willie and friends! Thanks to the elephant, Henry is repulsed and with another dose of the potion, Willie floats the elephant back to Pom! He finds that the king has paced up and down so much in worry that he has lost enough weight this way to satisfy him!
Perhaps the lesser of Willie’s adventures, this tale of a flying elephant and an unfriendly hermit, perhaps didn’t quite come off.
My favourite was the next story, the task for Willie to find `Old Tom’s Almanac`. The story commenced with the naughty `With it Witch` who was holding `Ally Lulia` hostage and would only let her go if Willy could locate the Almanac. For this, he had to climb an Indian rope to a land above the clouds (called `Nohow` land) to a library set in the cloudbanks which held the tome. Here, he encountered old friend `Genie Kelly` again and both set out on the task.
`Old Tom` who compiled the book was a giant who enjoyed Wizards and Genies for breakfast which was a bit of a problem for both. Another obstacle was the dreaded `Seven headed Serpent` whose gaze turned all those it looked upon to treacle! Willie’s reflective glasses turned the serpent’s glare back on itself and it ended up as a sort of `treacle pudding`. With aid from `Genie Kelly` Willie gained the Almanac and freed `Ally Lulia`.
The final adventure was in two sections. The first four episodes began with the streets of Pom troubled by the nasty `Van-Dal` ` Hooly Gan` and their gangs of `beat hicks`. Though Willy put temporary paid to their ways a permanent answer was needed. Hence, Willy goes on another mission on advice from the `With it Witch` to get `Doraymee` seeds which would cure the troublemakers for good.
On his journey, Willie encounters `Prince Vince` who is being sent on impossible tasks by a Caliph whose daughter he wishes to marry. Willy helps all to a happy resolution and gets his Doraymee seeds. Unknown to Willy a great change has come over `Van-Dal` and `Hooly Gan` who are now married and become solid citizens. A wandering minstrel, one `Robin Cupid` gave the louts some rather magical advice and they married and settled down. Due to a mishearing of partial conversations, Willy thinks `Robin Cupid` has replaced him and leaves the kingdom of Pom with all his possessions in belief that he is of no more use.
The final two episodes see Willy encounter wandering knight Sir Hardy of Bongovia, whose king had sent him on a task to catch a `Snole` for the Bongovian zoo. Hardy rescued a dozing Willy from one of these fierce fellows and the two became friends. Snoles, by the way, are a sort of cross between a grizzly bear and a crocodile...the mind boggles!
Back at court, the `With it Witch` asks for Willie’s job which puzzles the king. It then becomes clear that Willy has left on a misunderstanding and the king is distraught. Robin Cupid and postman `Jeepio` set out to search for him.
Meantime, and after Willy has rescued Sir Hardy from a whole bunch of `Snoles` they come across Robin Cupid and Jeepio and all is explained! Willy heads back to court to a tumultuous reception!
Just wonderful!! The whole series was a wonderful tour-de-force in surrealism and innovative storylines. But! After seven months, or to be more precise, 31 weeks, that was it for Willy; gone, never to return! It is one of the most puzzling decisions in the comic’s history; or perhaps, am I really the only reader who adored the strip?
As I stated earlier, in the second story the strip actually got away with a couple of drug references in that segment of the strip by mentioning a character smoking `Junk` and `Mescalweed`(a nod to Mescaline) which was incredibly daring for a children’s comic. The strip often put in references to present day culture and `pop` songs for readers to spot which gave it a very topical flavour.
Characters such as the `With it Witch` (who played a modern day electric guitar) and `Genie Kelly` (only film musical buffs will catch on to the association of that name) inhabited his world. There was `Ally Lullia` a pretty young lady who aided Willy on some occasions. The local postman was called Jeepio (G.P.O). The king of Pom was a portly fellow of uneven temper. At times, he jailed Willy, once on point of execution. Under this `crusty` exterior though, he actually liked Willy a lot and was awfully upset on thinking Willy had gone forever in the final story.
Yes! I adored this strip with its delightfully bizarre nature and wrote my first letter to the comic in March 1967 saying how much I enjoyed it. The result being the following month (8th April 1967), issue No 116, was that the strip ended forever!! Ah well! So much for reader feedback!
Why the strip never returned to the pages of Sparky has always puzzled me, as I was sure it was very popular. Maybe I was in a minority and many young readers did not understand it and found it too `way out`.
Only the `I. Spy` strip has ever headed `Willy the Woeful Wizard` as my favourite Sparky story of all time, which really shows just how much I loved it!
Alan Smith, June 2010 ©