A Connecticut Yankee in an Old Comic


This is not who this is about

Though you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, Eagle was not the only boy’s comic I used to devour in my personal Golden Age of the Sixties. It’s just the one of which I had the most clear and comprehensive memories, spurring me to pursue it, even to the extent of a dozen years worth of issues before I ever read my first.

Everything else exists in just brief flashes, odd, generic scenes of old but exciting series: Kelly’s Eye, The Steel Claw, Robot Archie, The Spider… ah, the Spider! I am still in awe at the discovery that some of those stories I relished back then, in 1965 or so, when we still lived at Brigham Street, were being written by Jerry Seigel, the Jerry Seigel, creator of Superman. Writing for _Lion_. I would love to grab hold of those old comics, to read them and try to see in them the work of the man who created American comics.

What comics did I read? The ones of my real childhood are unimportant to me: Robin, of course, and TV Comic are the ones I do remember, not that I would want to re-read any of these, except for the extraordinarily anarchic ‘Goon Show’ series, which really ought to be reprinted for us fans.

But of the older titles? Though I remember several recurring series from Victor and Hornet, and enjoying them then, I have curiously little attachment to their memories, and no idea which title housed which character I recall. The D.C.Thompson titles looked and felt cheap: slim, brittle, regimented in even rectangular panels in static tiers, and that permeates my recollections.

There’s only one story I would like to re-read, and that was one of which I never reached the end. This was a Wilson story, William Wilson, the mystery recluse and super-sportsman, and it involved cricket. The plane carrying the England Test party to Australia had crashed, injuring everyone. Mysteriously, a second plane with a replacement party also crashed, leaving no viable Test team. Wlison, the marvelous eccentric, put together a team of amateurs and eccentrics and weirdos who, under his unorthodox tutelage, played entertaining games and won them. Despite official MCC opposition, there was talk of offering the Tests to Wilson’s XI…

And then I gave up Victor or Hornet, whichever one it was, and never read the rest of the story. It wasn’t the only story left uncompleted by changes in my allegiances but, like my once-unfinished ‘High Quest’, it is still in my memory fifty years later.

If anyone did read that story to the end and remembers its outcome, please write!

I’m hazy on what comics I did get and which I only read when swapping with my mates. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember which comic Sergeant Hurricane (Valiant) featured in, only that it was never one of mine, but I remember getting Hurricane from its first issue, but not its contents, with the exception of its cover strip, a football series featuring the career of up and coming striker, Harry Kane (would you believe it?), nick-named ‘Hurry’, which for some reason I tried to pronounce mentally as Huhry.

But with very few exceptions, it’s the serious stories that provide me with these flashes of memory, the adventure series, the ones with a consistent, ongoing lead character. Just as with Eagle‘s features, the comedy has not worn well, and why should it? Just because I can still appreciate Laurel & Hardy as much as I did fifty years ago doesn’t mean that I am going to be in tune with cartoons and comics aimed at a ten year old’s mind and imagination.

Except that what’s caused this burst of nostalgia is a sudden recollection of a comic series that I haven’t thought of in decades.

I hold Ursula Le Guin responsible: since her death earlier this year, I have been engaged in a private re-read of all her books that I have collected, which is about 90% of her portfolio. I’m up to the non-fiction, and today, sitting in the sun with a bag of chicken nuggets, idling before my shift, I found myself reading an essay about Mark Twain, listing various of his books.

There was a reference, and a slighting one at that (with which I am in accord) to Connecticut Yankee (or A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court). Now this has been filmed, quite successfully, with Bing Crosby playing a smoothed down version of the character – you may remember the song ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ which comes from this film, but suddenly I remembered that one of my comics did a serial adaptation of the book – updating its central character to a 1960’s motor mechanic, and having a great deal of fun with it.

I seem to remember that titular Yankee having the name Huck, or maybe it was Hiram – utterly American names I was familiar with from TV – Huckleberry Hound and The Adventures of Hiram Holliday (hell’s bells, that’s another old memory springing out at me without warning!). It’s Hank in the original, and most likely in this version, I suppose. Probably, Twain’s satire, and the stinging snipes at Arthurian times and Kings in general, were removed and the series may well have taken nothing bit the basic set-up and played with it, but the point is that it’s arrived back into my head, and I want to know. I want to read it again, to test it against fifty years, to see how much of it, if any, still hits me. Because I have this irrational belief that I would remember this the way I don’t remember most of its contemporaries.

I did read the book, once. I’d read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, of course – at that age, the first was practically compulsory – but I tackled Yankee precisely because of the comic strip version I remembered so well. Like Ursula Le Guin, I didn’t particularly like it, and indeed resented it in places. This was substantially down to a kind of nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, an early sense of being British and being formed from the attitudes, beliefs and experiences of my country, and instinctively opposed to having our ancient past criticised by some damned upstart Yankee. I couldn’t then see that Twain was using the mythical times of Arthur to criticise contemporary Britain.

There was none of that in the strip version, or if there was it was softened for so young an audience. That this was being produced in Britain, and in an age when many of the differences between the nations in the back half of the 19th Century had decreased, it was more purely a modern versus ancient theme.

Of course, Connecticut Yankee has been adapted to comics many times, mostly straight, and apart from my memories, there’s no evidence of this version ever existing. It would have dropped out of copyright in England fifty years after Twain’s death in 1910, so the series could have used the proper title. But I can almost see actual panels in my mind, images of Hank (if they did follow the book), his wide open brash grin, his lankiness and his motor-goggles.

The chances of confirming any of this would seem to be slim. But thank you the late Ursula for triggering this rush, and your patience for reading this, especially you younger readers for whom this might as well have been in a foreign language!

5 thoughts on “A Connecticut Yankee in an Old Comic

  1. Hi Martin

    Fortunately for you, this reader of your excellent blog also has fond memories of that excellent adaptation of Connecticut Yankee. It appeared in Hurricane, from the first issue, and was a reprint of an Italian comic strip by Lino Landolfi. You can see a few panels and a cover from an Italian book version at http://edizioninpe.it/product/un-americano-alla-corte-di-re-artu/

    While I can’t help you with getting back issues of Hurricane, if you go to Ebay and do a search for “Hurricane comics on DVD” you can find several different sellers of DVDs featuring the comic’s full run. How you might feel about reading digital copies is up to you, but at prices running at less than a fiver for the full run there’s little to lose.

    Likewise, you can find similar DVD collections of Lion if you want to revisit The Spider (who appeared in Lion between 26th June 1965 and 26th April 1969 inclusive).

    Hurry Of The Hammers appeared in later issues of Hurricane, when they were desperately trying to stem falling sales with the brilliant idea of putting Roy Of The Rovers reprints at the fron of the comic, only with the serial numbers changed.

  2. David, that’s absolutely brilliant! I’m very grateful. That Yankee was a continental reprint fits in perfectly with my vague memories of the art. Ditto re the Spider: I know Seigel came on board with the third story, which I wouldn’t be surprised was the one where he changed from villain to anti-hero.

    So ‘Hurry’ Kane was Roy Race from the olden days? I never was much good at distinguishing art styles when I was that young. Thanks tremendously.

  3. Glad to be of help, Martin.
    In case you didn’t already know, Jerry Siegel also wrote Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid which ran in Lion from May to October 1968. It was utterly barking mad and, unlike other superhero strips in Lion, heavily imitated American superhero comics (and by imitated I mean the artists swiped freely from various Marvel comics).

  4. Thanks to you, I have already invested in a Hurricane comics DVD through eBay, the promo for which reminded me of another character I loved then, Hugo Dinwiddie cavalier. Gadgetman is completely unfamilar to me: by 1968, I was heavily into football, and things like ‘Goal’, ‘Shoot’ and ‘Striker’ were rapidly replacing comics. It just goes to show how shittily Seigel was treated in America that he had to work for Longacre…

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