KEN REID

THE COMIC GENIUS
(1919 – 1987)

© Peter Hansen 2004

Born on the 19th of December 1919 in Manchester Reid was a born artist.  His mother was quick to tell friends and family that he was drawing recognisable things at the age of two.  Like all kids of his day, Ken grew up on a diet of British comics such as Funny Wonder, Film Fun and Chips.  At the age of nine he was diagnosed with a Tubercular hip after returning from a family holiday. As a result he was confined to bed for six months with the possibility that he would spend the rest of his life in a spinal carriage.  Fortune smiled on him and not only did he recover, but throughout his illness he drew continuously. 

On leaving school at fourteen years of age Reid was granted a full scholarship to Salford Art School in Manchester. After four years and just before graduation, Reid was expelled for refusing to sign a letter of apology when he was caught by the Principal during class time at a local café near to the school (boy have times changed!).

Having made the decision not to return to art school Reid set up his own studio in a room behind a store in Water Street Manchester in 1936. He made himself a large sign KEN REID COMMERCIAL ARTIST and sat back waiting for the work to


Ken in a 1933 school photo
Thanks to the Fudge the Elf website for this image.

roll in.  As he would comment many years later “Absolutely nothing happened!” Without a small amount of work from a Commercial Photographer in the same building, Reid would have quickly joined that well known fraternity of starving artists.  Either way the amount of work was not enough to live on, and so he hit the streets visiting every Commercial Art studio in the telephone directory asking if they had any freelance work.  In this way he managed to get a couple of minor jobs but still not enough to keep him going.


Ken and his father P. Walker Reid at a 1947 book signing.

Eventually Reid’s father intervened and offered to come around with him and act as his agent.  Although Reid’s father was not shy about going where angels fear to tread a whole day of slogging around the streets of Manchester produced nothing.  At the point of going home Reid and his father found themselves outside the Manchester Evening News offices (still in business!).  A veritable impenetrable fortress, at least as far as young freelance artists were concerned. But not to Reid’s father! With Reid in tow, he strode into the large imposing foyer and marched up to the peak capped, sergeant-major type Commissionaire and told him he had an appointment with the Art Editor.  He delivered this line in such an authoritative fashion that the man immediately got a boy to take them up to the Art Editors office.  Barton, the Editor looked blankly at them for a moment before saying that he didn’t remember

making an appointment with a Mr. Reid.  At this point Reid’s father confessed that he had lied in order to get in to see him and show him his son’s artwork. Whether he admired his cheek or what we will never know but he invited them in and carefully went through Ken’s portfolio.  He then told them that the Evening News was thinking of starting a children’s feature and various artists had already been asked to come up with ideas, adding that perhaps Ken would like to submit something? Reid immediately set to work and his first idea was to take advantage of the current craze for keeping budgerigars as pets.  Why not turn one into a strip and call it “The Adventures of Budge”.  However Reid quickly discovered that he wasn’t very good at drawing budgies and so he invented a companion he could feature on occasion so that he wouldn’t have to draw a budgie all the time.  He decided that the companion would be a likeable little elf that he found he could draw and so he went through the alphabet to come up with a name for the elf that rhymed with “Budge” until he came up with “Fudge”.

The first Fudge annual - 1939
An excerpt for the 1941 Fudge annual - the last one until after the war


There he had it “The Adventures of Budge and Fudge”.  The only problem was that after numerous tries he just couldn’t get into the budgie character and draw him well in a consistent fashion.  So “Budge was dropped and the strip became The Adventures of Fudge the Elf, which was duly submitted to Mr. Barton.  Reid freely admitted that the look of Fudge was influenced by Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse to a great extent. Particularly the face which looked like Mickey Mouse with a cap on!  Six weeks later Reid was hired and “Fudge” made his first strip appearance in the Evening News on April 7th 1938.

So popular did the 3-panel strip become that a Fudge doll was in the stores for Christmas 1938, along with a hard bound annual of completely new stories called “The Adventures of Fudge the Elf” published by Hodder and Stoughton.  A total of six other annuals based on reprinting the adventures of “Fudge the Elf” from the newspaper were published between 1941 and 1951, with “Fudge Turns Detective” the last.


Dilly Duckling c.1953

All of these annuals are extremely rare and very hard to come by.  Even more difficult to find is Reid’s small ¼ page pamphlet of a character called Dilly Duckling produced by Brockhampton Press in 1948.  This small one shilling pamphlet has an advertisement on the back for a Dilly Duckling squeaky rubber duck available from Hygienic Toys which as the ad suggested “Brings Ken Reid’s character to life, more loveable than ever”.  Clearly Reid was on the merchandising trail from the very beginning.  Later however in 1956 this character would turn up in a story book called “The Adventures of Dilly Duckling” (same title as the pamphlet) but published by a children’s book publisher called George Newnes Limited, written by long time comic writer Arthur Groom with illustrations by another great British cartoonist called Harry Banger.  No reference to Ken Reid at all, so one can only assume that Reid must have sold the rights, since by 1956 he would have been far to busy to develop his character. 

Fudge the Elf was suspended during the war from 1941 until Reid was de-mobbed in 1946.  Over the years that he wrote and drew Fudge, Reid’s style matured and the detail he put into the panels, coupled with his imagination and development of new characters in the Fudge world turned the strip into a very accomplished piece of comic art.

However as much as he loved Fudge, by 1952 Reid realised that he could draw more than just the three panels a day for the newspaper, so he began to cast his net around the major comic publishers.  His first catch was with Amalgamated Press, the oldest, largest and most established comic publisher in the UK at that time.  For them he drew his own creation Foxy (1952) and two other strips called Super Sam (1952) and Billy Boffin (1953) in the style of the regular artists which Reid did not enjoy doing at all.  Both sets appeared in a long running comic called “Comic Cuts”.  A relic of an earlier age and unknown to Reid this comic was on its last legs and not long after he began working for Amalgamated Press he received a letter telling him that it was winding up and that as they say was that!  In a curious and unrelated coincidence the British comic market appears to have mirrored the plight of the American comic book market during 1953/54 with a number of titles falling by the wayside.


Roger the Dodger started in 1953 in the Beano.
Click here to see the second ever Roger strip


After Reid's father died in 1953, his career took a fortuitous turn (thanks to an introduction by his brother-in-law, D.C. Thomson artist Bill Holroyd). Reid received a letter from D.C. Thomson asking if he would be interested in doing a new series entitled Roger the Dodger for their best selling comic ‘The Beano’.  For many years D.C. Thomson had been considered to be a poor relation when compared to the mighty Amalgamated Press (AP).  However since the end of the Second World War Thomson had been eating away at AP’s circulation.  In the early 1950’s a change of the guard with respect to their freelance art staff had seen the addition of young whippersnappers such as Leo Baxendale, Paddy Brennan, the brilliant Davy Law and others who had revitalized their line of comics.  The addition of Ken Reid was tantamount to adding the jewel in the crown and within a very short space of time ‘The Beano’ was selling in excess of one million copies per week!!!

Paddy Brennan and Leo Baxendale were freelancers throughout their times at D.C. Thomson, creating and drawing for the children's comics industry. Leo worked from home, at Preston to start with, then moved up to Scotland at the end of November 1953 to live and work nearer to the publishers (Leo had a flat where he lived and worked, three miles from Dundee, in the small seaside resort of Broughty Ferry.) Paddy Brennan similarly a freelancer worked from home, six months of each year in London and six months in Dublin. Davey Law was an in-house staff artist who worked from home, (Paragraph Source: Leo Baxendale 2007)

It's interesting to note that such was the importance placed on the addition of Ken Reid and the introduction of Roger the Dodger that the Managing Editor of D.C. Thomson, R.D. Lowe travelled down from Dundee in Scotland to Manchester in England to meet with Reid and discuss the project. In their meeting, Lowe described ‘Roger’ as a young lad forever “dodging’ out of things through various bizarre schemes that he concocted.  After some discussion Reid drew up a few versions of how he envisaged the character and Lowe selected his favourite.  With this the deal was done and Reid became a freelance artist with D.C. Thomson drawing a half page “Roger the Dodger” set every week with the first set appearing in ‘The Beano’ dated April 18th 1953. Originally a half page set, ‘Roger’ soon became a full page set.

The following year, Reid was asked to draw a second feature called Little Angel Face for D.C. Thomson’s other big selling comic of the day, ‘The Dandy’. An angelic prankster, Reid was later to admit he


Little Angel Face started in the Dandy in 1954.
Click here to read a full page of Little Angel Face.

never liked drawing female characters. A conclusion the Editor of the ‘Beano’ obviously arrived at after only a short time, and in early 1955 Reid was asked to turn his talents towards a male feature called Grandpa.  Reid soon got his teeth into this character, who was a scallywag of an old codger who behaved like a schoolboy although he was eighty if he was a day and he lived with his DAD who must have been over a hundred!  Like Roger, Grandpa quickly became extremely popular with readers and ran for many years after Reid stopped drawing him.


Grandpa (and his dad) started in the Dandy in 1955.
Click here to read a full page of Grandpa


In 1956, Reid was asked by the Editor of ‘The Dandy’ to add another character to his growing list, and this time it was right up his alley.  Bing-Bang Benny was about a young man who had a dangerous pre-occupation with explosives.  He was always blowing up things. It was set in the Wild West which gave Reid the opportunity to let his imagination run wild, which he did on a number of the stories.


Bing-Bang Benny started in the Dandy in 1956
Click here to read a full page of Bing-Bang Benny

In addition to his work for D.C. Thomson and Fudge for the Manchester Evening News, Reid was also producing a competition page for the Irish edition of the Sunday Express newspaper, which he drew for many years.

On March 15th 1958 (#817) Reid’s personal favourite series began in The Beano.  Jonah, the story of a goofy looking jinxed mariner who sunk every ship he set foot on. It was the beginning of Reid’s best comic work, and quite possibly his very best comic work in many people’s eyes.  It certainly brought out the best in him at that time of his career, and Reid was quoted on a number of occasions as saying that it was his personal favourite.  Written by Walter Fearne who was later to become an Editor with D.C. Thomson, Jonah swept to the top of the popularity charts, even displacing the hugely popular “Dennis the Menace” by Davy Law. All of the Jonah

scripts were written by Fearne and Reid admitted that they quite often had him laughing out loud. Although Fearne usually made provision for about 12 panels per page, it was not unusual for Reid to cram in over 30!


Jonah the nautical nightmare started in the Beano in 1958.


Just another day at the 'office' for Jonah (1958-63)
Click here to read a 'very' full page of Jonah


When questioned about this on one occasion Reid replied: “Ah, um, yes….well the way Fearne described a particular incident often set me off on a train of thought that had me creating additional panels. I admit that sometimes I simply got carried away with things.  I’ve always had trouble just drawing a script as it is written.  This usually means lots more work on my part, and that’s why I’m not rich.  I simply like to take what has been sent to me and do the best possible job I can do with it, even if it is a lot more work.”

Not only did D.C. Thomson not object to this enhancement of the scripts, but they acquiesced when Reid decided to carry over a story into the next week’s issue with one week’s adventure leading to another.  This was unique for a humour strip at that time.  On one occasion Reid caused a bit of a stir and a lot of merriment in the Beano office when quite unintentionally (so he claimed) he added a perfect caricature of the Beano Editor, George Mooney into the Jonah strip.  By 1958 Reid had really hit his stride on Jonah when he changed the appearance of the character to a completely chinless ‘goof’ with the famous elongated neck.  So popular was the character that Reid in response to a letter to the Editor got carried away and produced a life size image of Jonah for the sailors onboard the Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier ‘H.M.S. Victorious’ which they duly hung on the bulkhead in their mess.


Ali Ha-Ha (1960-63)
Click here to read a full page of Ali Ha-Ha


In 1960 Reid began another new strip called “Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves”, this time for ‘The Dandy’.  The son of a police sergeant in old Arabia Ali was always getting into trouble while trying to help his dad catch the 40 Thieves.  This usually ended up with his dad getting locked up in the pokey rather than the bad guys.  Such was the popularity of this strip that it ended up as a colour feature on the back page of the comic.  To me this was just another great strip by Reid but with a difference.  The number of characters that appeared in the strip every week must have taxed even Reid’s ability to create different faces for each one.  But such was his ability at that time that he handled it with consummate ease.


Big Head and Thick Head (1963-1967)
Click here to read the very first strip
of Big Head and Thick Head


Jinx (1963-1964)
Click here to read a full page of Jinx

In 1963 ‘Ali’ was replaced on the back page of ‘The Dandy’ by Big Head and Thick Head.  Two hilarious schoolboys, one brainy one dumb, who managed to get into all kinds of trouble every week.  Concurrently Reid also started drawing Jinx a new feature for the inside pages of ‘The Beano’, a troublesome little girl who had the same kind of bad luck as Jonah.

In 1964 the unthinkable happened, Reid always a freelance artist left D.C. Thomson to work for Odhams, a competitor who had lured away their other “gem”, Leo Baxendale.  When asked about the change, Reid quite candidly admitted it was all to do with money.  In 1963 Reid was being paid £18 a page.  Odhams offered Reid £30 a page to come and draw for them in their new comic to be called “Wham”, which they intended to launch that year to compete with the hugely popular Beano and Dandy comics of D.C. Thomson. 

Reid didn’t want to leave but a £12 pound a page increase in those days was substantial to say the least!  He wrote to D.C. Thomson to tell them of the offer and to request a raise of one half of what Odhams had offered to gladly stay with them.  He received a response from R.D. Lowe the Managing Editor of D.C. Thompson juvenile publications for over forty years saying that Odhams offer was quite unrealistic and he wasn’t prepared to increase the page rate by any amount.  There was nothing further to be said except that Reid immediately stopped working for Thomson’s and joined Odhams.


The very popular Frankie Stein (Wham! 1964). Click here to read the VERY FIRST Frankie Stein strip.


Jasper the Grasper started life in Wham! in 1965.
Click here to read a full page of Jasper the Grasper.


Early in 1964 after the deal was struck, Alf Wallace the Managing Editor of Odhams Group and Albert Cosser the new Editor of the new comic to be called ‘Wham’ went to Manchester to meet Reid and discuss concepts for new sets.  When Reid told them of his unfulfilled passion for comic horror, Cosser immediately threw out an idea for a set to be called Frankie Stein.  This series turned out to be one of the most popular in British comic’s history and it ran for more than twenty years.  Taking the broad concept from Cosser, Reid created the character and wrote all of the scripts as well as pencilling and inking the pages.  This was the first time on a comic set that Reid had a completely free hand and it showed.

From here Reid moved on to one of his most interesting characters called Jasper the Grasper.  Uniquely set in Victorian rather than modern day England, Jasper McGrabb of 13 Stingy St. was the richest old miser for miles around who could hear a coin drop from great distances.  He enjoyed a pleasant run throughout 1965-66 and reprints were to later appear in IPC’s Cor!! comic in 1971.

Designed to compete with the flagships of D.C. Thomson, ‘Wham’ lasted for only 187 issues from June 1964 to January 1968 but with Reid and Baxendale leading the charge they were some issues. Once ‘Wham’ had hit the streets and was selling well Odhams brought out a companion comic called ‘Smash’ in February 1966.  For this comic, Reid produced what some consider to be his crowning glory, a set called Queen of the Seas.  This was a Jonah type series about a couple of real idiots with a steamship of the same name as the series.  In this old bucket they travelled the seven seas lurching from one disaster to another in hilarious fashion.


Queen of the Seas from Smash! (1966).
Click here to read a full story of Queen of the Seas.

In addition, Reid took over a two page set from the great ‘Leo Baxendale’ called The Nervs.   It turned out to be just Reid’s thing.  Located in the world inside of a fat glutton’s body, Reid had no end of opportunity to indulge himself in comic horror.  It was while working on Smash that he developed a reputation for sneaking in ‘naughty’ bits into kid’s comics that the editors soon became acutely aware of.  Things like a gallows located far off in the distance in one panel with one of the Nervs dangling from a short rope.  Such things were definitely not suitable for a juvenile publication in those days.


Dare-A-Day Davy from Pow! (1967).
Click here to read the VERY FIRST Dare-A-Day Davy strip.


Launched in January 1967 the short lived Pow comic was an experiment in mixing reprints of Marvel (US) strips in black and white with classic British humour strips that never quite took off.  Not even the inclusion of Spiderman, Nick Fury and The Fantastic Four could sustain the comic for more than 12 months before it merged with the faltering ‘Wham’, lasting only another 9 months before disappearing forever. For ‘Pow’ however, Reid created the excellent Dare a Day Davy about a schoolboy who could not resist a dare, all of which were provided by the readers.  In one instance, Reid’s set about a dare requiring Davy to resurrect “Frankenstein” was so ‘risqué’ that the editors pulled it before being published and it never saw the light of day.  That is until the Artwork was rescued by ‘Steve Moore’ (writer 2000 AD, America’s Best etc.) and published in David Britton’s Weird Fantasy magazine in 1969.


Fachache from Jet (1971).
Click here to read the VERY FIRST Faceache strip


Next on Reid’s agenda was another comic horror series called Faceache, which he scripted and drew for almost ten years.  A mischievous schoolboy named Ricky Rubberneck who was billed as ‘The Boy with a Thousand Faces’. He could change his facial appearance by using what was known as the ‘Scrunge’ effect.

Over the period of the series these changes became more and more bizarre and fantastic until he could alter his complete appearance and change into absolutely anything.  At the same time as Faceache was on the go, Reid was also producing one page ‘fillers’ for Shiver and Shake’s Creepy Creations in 1973. Whoopee’s Wanted Posters in 1974 and the original WWW in the shape of his World Wide Wierdies.  These were usually based on suggestions from the readers who received a cash prize for their suggestions.


Click on either Creepy Creations (Shiver & Shake – 1973), Wanted Posters (Whoopee! – 1974), World Wide Weirdies (Whoopee! – 1976) to read their respective pages.


As the 70's drew to a close, Reid was called on to add Martha's Monster Makeup in Monster Fun to his repertoire as well as Tom Horrors World (a take off of the British TV Show called “Tomorrows World”) in ‘Wow’ and then ‘Whoopee’.  Martha was a cute little girl who had a jar full of make up that had monstrous effects whenever she applied it! Tom Horror was a bespectacled boy in overalls who was a schoolboy inventor.  Tom’s proud pa was invariably always the recipient of his inventions gone wrong!


Click on either Martha's (Monster Fun - 1976) or Tom Horror's World (Whoopee - 1983) to read their respective pages.


Named Best Writer and Best Artist by the British Society of Strip Illustrators in 1978, Ken Reid suffered a fatal stroke while working on a Faceache page on the 2nd February 1987 (click here to read a tribute from the Manchester Evening News). For me Reid was unequalled, his zany humour and the variety of characters he produced combined with the ever increasing detail he put into every panel made his work instantly distinguishable and a cut above the rest.  I don’t believe we will ever see his like again.

Peter Hansen

(Thanks go to Alan Clarke and Ray Moore for their assistance with this article)