The Secret Origin of Splank!

First published on April 1st 2016, this article was the first the world heard of splank

 

In 1964, British Comic great, Leo Baxendale, was lured away from his job with D.C. Thompson, working on the Beano and The Dandy, by rival publisher Odhams.  Odhans promised a frustrated Baxendale with increased creative freedom and editorial control ovder a comic which he would run and operate.  Baxendale had already created many of the most popular British comic characters.  The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Little Plum and the Three Bears are just a few of his creations.  His art style, more frantic and anarchic than many of his Beano colleagues, laid the groundwork for the look of British comics for years to come.

Initially at least, Odhams kept their promises and Baxendale created Wham! for them.  Wham! was to be a Super-Beano with strips by Baxendale along with fellow Beanotown escapee and the master of the grotesque comic strip Ken Reid.  In the end financial and editorial restrictions meant that Wham! was not exactly the comic Baxendale had envisaged, it remains one of the funniest and most influential comics of the time.

An initial success, Wham! was quickly joined on the shelves by Smash! and Pow! as the beautifully drawn and anarchic humor strips were joined by the first regular reprints of Marvel Super-hero stories in the UK.   The new line, with the additions of the all-Superhero Terrific and Fantastic became know as "Power Comics".  In addition to the standard school and scamp strips, the Power Comics line specialised in spoof spys and heroes.    "Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy" from Wham! was joined by "The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E." and "Grimly Fiendish" in Smash! and best of all Mike Higgs' "The Cloak" in Smash!

An interesting oddity and an indication of what may have gone wrong with the Odhams line, Splank! was a short-lived Irish version of Pow!  It replaced the main title from issue 32 through to number 34 before disappearing forever. 

 

Someone, probably an Englishman on the Odhams Staff, was concerned that Mike Higgs' Cloak strip, was featuring a villain called "The Leprechaun", something he suspected would to go down well in 1960’s Ireland.

At the time Irish/ British relations were not great and there had been complaints in the Irish press, mainly in the Sunday World, about the stereotyping of Mick the Marmaliser of Ken Dodd’s Diddymen as a violent, bad-tempered redhead. Indeed Dodd had been forced to cancel a series of shows in Dublin following the controversy, with the IRNPA (Irish Redhead National Provincial Army) threatening his life.

POW! was the best-selling comic in the Irish Republic at the time and Odhams were worried that the loss of Irish sales could be critical to the survival of the title. It was felt to be worth re-lettering the Cloak Strip to remove any semblence of anti-Irish sentiment and retitling the comic to make it more Irish.  Splank! was believed by the editors, totally incorrectly as it happens, to be an english version of an Irish word for bog oak.  In fact the word had only been used once previously, as way of describing the sound of “a man being struck over the head with a wet plank” on Irish TV in a sketch on the Late, Late Show parodying the immensely popular Batman TV show.

The first issue of Splank!, numbered no. 32, went on sale in September 1967 and sank without trace. Careless production led to an early joke cover being used, one which used language not deemed suitable for children. The failure to change the banner from ‘Britain’s’ to ‘Ireland’s Super-Hero Action Comic’ meant that the Sunday World had another front page story. The title lasted only three, very badly distributed, issues before fading into oblivion.

Copies of POW! were transported from the North and were much more popular that the ersatz Splank!  For a month it overtook butter as the item most often smuggled across the border with Northern Ireland.  Not many issues survive and I came across my copies in a bundle of old comics at a second hand book shop in West Cork owned by a sailor with a wooden arm. 

 

Irish comics fans all know about Splank!, but few are willing to talk about it, there are so few copies in circulation that we want to keep them all for ourselves,  but word has recently got out and this article, published on April 1st, is our way of casting doubt on the reality of the comic.   Is it true or is it fake news?  Only The Donald Knows.

Print Print | Sitemap
© Peter B Duncan