Friday, 28 June 2013

Nostalgic for my childhood - Bullet comic


A couple of days ago, I was browsing on eBay (as it my wont) and I came across a listing for Bullet comic (a real blast from my childhood).  The front cover image (shown here) was so well done and so attention grabbing that I posted it on Facebook and it got a good reaction and led to some nice reminiscences about the kinds of thing we read as kids.

It also got me to thinking about Bullet and what it meant to me and so here we have the first (and maybe the last, who knows?) “Nostalgic for my childhood” blog-post (and I realise it could be argued that a lot of posts here could be safely collected under that title).

Launched on 7th February 1976 by D.C. Thomson, Bullet was their attempt to produce a tougher, more hard hitting comic to appeal to older boys.   Priced at 7p, it focused on action and adventure, revenge and sci-fi and - those old staples - war and sport and apparently remained a popular title throughout its publication life.  It’s worth noting that IPC launched Action the same weekend and against the standard set by that comic (the ‘seven penny nightmare’, as it was dubbed), Bullet was relatively tame.

The figurehead of the comic was Fireball, a multi-talented secret agent with a great moustache (he was apparently based on Peter Wyngarde), whose parents died in a mysterious car crash when he was a young child.  Becoming the ward of Lord Peter Flint (his father’s friend and the eponymous hero of Warlord comic), Fireball was trained in the arts of shooting, sports, survival and martial arts and the story of how this happened became the basis of the Fireball story (for the fan club - more on that later).  This obviously served him well since, as an adult, he was working for the government and constantly being sent on dangerous missions by his boss Preece - avoiding death-defying situations with a witty quip whilst kicking the arse of the baddies and saving the world.  His recurring arch enemy was The Cat (aka Catriona Klansberg) though he clearly had a soft spot for her, always letting her slip away once he’d thwarted her latest evil plan.  Initially represented as a drawing (and often shown driving either a Jensen or a Lotus Eclat), he was later photographed with the model - clearly uncomfortable and wearing a fake moustache (obvious even to an 8 year old) - thought to be the comics editor Garry Fraser.

There were plenty of other strips, obviously and some of the main ones included:
Twisty, which featured Twisty Lunnon, a footballer with an attitude and the ability to bend the ball with incredible accuracy (he had a crooked left foot, caused by a car crash).

Smasher concerned a virtually indestructible 50-foot robot that destroyed cities, controlled by Dr Doom (not the one from The Fantastic Four), an evil genius who planned world domination.

Midge (my favourite, after Fireball) was about sixteen-year-old ‘Midge’ Miller, who worked for Callaghan’s the builders.  A 7-stone weakling, he was bullied by his macho workmates but took a bodybuilding course at the S.W.I.S.H. (the Shipyard Workers Indoor Sports Hall) and by the end of the story had became a force to be reckoned with.


A Tale of Terror from Solomon Knight featured a different scary story every week.  Knight introduced them and sometimes explained the tale at the end, but sometimes left disturbing aspects open to the readers imagination.

Hitman, featuring our anti-hero after some prime targets.  This was the first strip that introduced me to the wonderful artwork of Denis McLoughlin (who also produced some of the covers).

Three Men In A Jeep was set in Northern France during 1944.  Our three heroes had escaped from a military prison (pre-dating “The A Team” somewhat), stolen a Jeep and started fighting their own war, killing ‘Huns’, blowing stuff up and generally causing mayhem.
Werewolf was ex-detective Dave Barry who, upon inheriting a house, gained the power of lycanthropy and used it to fight an endless war against crime.

The Mice Of Tobruk featured a bunch of kids stuck behind German lines in Tobruk during World War 2.

Ginger featured Tim Brady, a fugitive on the run from his bullying stepfather who had attempted to drown Ginger, his greyhound.
Wonder Mann, featuring H.E. Mann who was raised by computers to become a world-beating superman, helped out by a TV eye that linked back to Professor Wilkie and his assistant Tom Brace.

Vic's Vengeance, wherein Vic Mason cut a swathe through London’s ganglands as he sought revenge against his father's murderers.

The strip art was generally very good (as was often the case for 70s Brit comics) with Barrie Mitchell working on Twisty, Tony Harding on Wonder Mann and Horacio Altuna on Fireball, whilst the excellent Ian Kennedy produced Smasher.
In addition there was Fireball Calling - a two page spread containing readers letters (those printed winning a Fireball t-shirt!), trivia, encrypted messages and competitions.  The writer of the weeks best letter received an electronic pocket calculator, a big-deal back in 1976/77!

Profiles and fact-files on footballers and other sportsmen and cars were also scattered throughout (Malcolm MacDonald featured heavily in the only Summer Special Bullet published, in 1977).

As often happened with comics back in the day, Bullet was absorbed into Warlord in December 1978 and although I carried on with it for a while, I lost interest fairly quickly.  Warlord, which began life on 28th September 1974, was itself absorbed into Victor on 27th September 1986, though ‘summer specials’ appeared until 1990.

A key aspect of the comic was the Fireball Club and I was a keen and eager member of this.  For the princely sum of 25p (postal orders only, please), you got the Fireball story (as mentioned above) enclosed in a red plastic wallet, an ID card and the Fireball ‘Flaming F’ pendant (which was very, very cool).  Fireball was never seen without his and it saved his life on one occasion, shielding him from a long range sniper’s bullet.  The Fireball story also served as a key for decoding Top Secret messages in the comic.








I loved Bullet at the time and treasured my pendant, though it has long since been lost to the sands of time.  I did pick up a few copies of the comic through eBay (where they are sold for considerably more than their 7p cover price) and it was a really nice, nostalgic blast reading through them (and I was amazed at how much of the artwork I could remember).  I have noticed that certain comics lines are having old strips re-published in large format editions and I’d love to see something similar happen for Bullet.

Me and my sister Tracy, pictured in 1977.  I'm proudly wearing my pendant!

(thanks to The Yellowed Pages, 26Pigs.com, The Sevenpenny Nightmare, Comicvine and Downthetubes for their brilliantly nostalgic and well-researched sites - all are great resources for kids of the 60s/70s/80s)

2016 update - lovely 40th anniversary post over at Downthetubes from Colin Noble

22 comments:

  1. Ah, happy days! I coveted the Fireball pendant, but I was a bit of a latecomer to the Bullet party, as when I sent off my postal order, I got a letter back telling me that Bullet was being cancelled, so they weren't accepting any more members. Gutted!

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  2. Oh no, bad luck Jay. Really wish I still had mine!

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  3. I still have all my stuff and my warlord stuff. :) Loved Bullet.

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  4. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be...
    Really enjoyed reading this. Dumb as it doubtless sounds, the 'top secret story of how I became Fireball' has remained my subconscious and not-so-subconscious template for a life well lived to this very day. Do you remember the follow on strip - Young Fireball, chronicling his 'gap year'?
    I have to go - I have a ten mile cross country run before breakfast.

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    1. Cheers Chris, glad you enjoyed it! And enjoy your run too :)

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  5. When I was studying in Chester 10 yrs ago I came across Bullet comic when I was checkin out something on the web..i started collecting all the Bullet comics, and also got the wallet and pendant , I also collected all the Vulcan comics, what a wonderful time too be a kid, still am..lol

    kr seamusgm@gmail.com

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  6. OMG - so many memories! I remember waiting at the door for the postman to come every day for weeks! I wish I still had it!

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  7. Brilliant, just found my red fireball wallet. I'm 51 now and just had to Google it and found this page. Great memories

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  8. I had pangs for this recently ... I had vague memories of a story about a boy who was lost in the jungle but I just couldn't remember the name of it. Eventually I found a reference to it on another site (it was called "Survivor" BTW). A little bit of searching around and lo and behold I have managed to get the ENTIRE "Bullet" collection on a CD for £4.99.
    http://indiecomics.co.uk/product/bullet-comics-uk/
    Just started reading the first 2 issues this evening..... amazing nostaglic fun for a fiver :-) !

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  9. Wow! I have also just googled Bullet and found this page! I must be one of the few girls who loved Bullet! At school we were members of the Fireball Club. I still have the wallet and its contents but lost the pendant back in the day. I also bought four of the comics on ebay a few years ago for the nostalgia. Then bought the CD with a scan of every Bullet edition. Good to know I'm not the only one!
    Jane

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  10. HI MARK

    "Fireball" character was drawed by two argentine artists: Horacio Altuna and Gerardo Canelo. Do you know where I can find inning pages of rhis serie. Thank you.

    www.luisalberto941.wordpress.com (TOP COMICS)

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    1. Thanks for that Rafael. As for the inner pages, I'm not aware of anyone on the Net hosting them.

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  11. I am trying to locate a D C Thomson publication entitled 'Bullet Sports Special'. It was a one-off published in 1977. Can anyone help?

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    1. I've been looking for ages too - can't find one on ebay or Amazon (wish I still had my copy!). Good luck with your search.

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  12. I was involved as a writer for Bullet comic, when it was first introduced and wrote many of the original Fireball episodes.

    A D.C Thomson editor met me at the Piccadilly Hotel in Manchester and provided me with a detailed spiel about Fireball's origins and the fact that he was related to the chief character on which Warlord was based.

    I was also provided with a book (by Anthony Greenbank, if I recall correctly) about survival in the wilds etc. which would provide a basis for Fireball's intuition regarding how to escape from difficulties encountered.

    I still have some of the original scripts in my possession, although D.C. Thomson would purchase the copyright as it existed in comic strip form, but would (if I have interpreted their original instructions correctly) allow the scripts to be published by the authors in none comic strip formats.

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    1. Wow! Thanks for posting this, that's excellent.

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    2. I would be delighted to see the scripts again, in whatever format.

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