Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Captain Wally and Snail-Man (Marvel UK, 1985)

Back in 1985 sales of the British Spider-Man weekly were in need of a boost. The solution, Marvel UK decided, was to pitch it at a younger readership as sales of other comics were strong in that area.

The result was that with issue 634, dated 4th May 1985, the comic changed its title to The Spider-Man Comic, a 32 page weekly with half its pages in full colour, featuring reprints of Spider-Man stories from Spidey Super Stories, an early-learner comic that Marvel US had been publishing. Other reprints included Fraggle Rock and Willy the Wizard (which had been called Wally the Wizard in the USA, but Marvel UK changed it to 'Willy' avoid unexpected laughter. Erm... right.) Reprints of The Dukes of Hazard from TV Comic also started running a few weeks later.
The editor was Sheila Cranna, whom I'd worked for on my very first regular strip, Robo-Capers, for Transformers. Sheila asked me to come up with some ideas for the comic's revamp and I submitted two superhero-spoof characters, Captain Wally and Snail-Man. Happily Sheila liked both and I was commissioned to produce a full page Captain Wally every week along with a half page Snail-Man.
As you can see, both characters were set in a very English suburban environment. This formula had worked well for children's comics for years, usually with Dennis the Menace style strips, so I thought it'd make superheroes look even more ludicrous than they are by placing them in that setting. Adding to that, neither characters had any independence in their lives. Wally lived with his parents whilst Snail-Man lived with his brutally domineering Aunt Maim, thus further emasculating the concept of the strong super-hero.
Sheila Cranna was a pleasure to work for and I thoroughly enjoyed producing these strips every week. I was still fairly new to the business and certainly learning the ropes (some of the artwork here is a considerably rough and wonky) but I was very pleased to be working on a comic that I used to buy as a kid. (Even though it had changed considerably they retained the numbering so it was still the same comic that had launched as Spider-Man Comics Weekly in 1973.)

During its run Captain Wally introduced Macho-Man, who I'd later revamp a bit for his own series in Marvel UK's Secret Wars comic. Here's his first appearance from The Spider-Man Comic No.649...
For issue 650 I wanted to do something a bit different and, somehow, mention the comic's impressive long run. Sheila was happy to allow me two pages that week and I had Captain Wally and Snail-Man having a Marvel team-up...

Sadly, all things come to an end, some earlier than expected. With issue 651 the comic was tweaked again, becoming Spidey Comic. Jenny O'Connor became the editor and was instructed to make cuts in the budget, and Captain Wally and Snail-Man made their final appearances in issue 653. This was quite a blow at the time as it was my first experience of losing work. (Fortunately things soon picked up thanks to other Marvel UK strips and IPC's Oink!)

Although the strips only ran for 20 weeks they were very important to me as they were amongst my first regular professionally-published strips and helped me gain more confidence in my work. Sheila Cranna pretty much allowed me to do what I wanted with the pages, and as what Marvel UK were looking for were traditional UK kids strips with a daft edge I was more than happy to oblige.

Marvel still own the rights to these strips so, who knows, maybe Captain Wally and Snail-Man will turn up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe one day? Hey, if Howard the Duck could make a cameo, why not? I can but dream...

I'll be showing more strips from my 37 years in comics soon!



Peter Gray said...

Really enjoyed them...all new to me..glad Oink came along phew!

Manic Man said...

ah, technically, the building of the Lewniverse. Brickman had been out but Captain Wally and Snailman are the first, if I'm right, to crossover to show a 'shared universe'. Later, Loose Brain guest appeared in Combat Colin, Robo-capers guest appearance, then Macho Man appearing, then the big gathering, showing them all together (kinda.. some versions ^_^).

Bit of a shame you can't (well... no worth going into the full details) have them all again but oh well, still good ^_^