Like most kids, I got into comics in a big way growing up.
But unlike most kids in Australia, instead of avidly following the adventures of Spiderman and Batman, I gravitated mainly to British comic books that celebrated a very idiosyncratic type of English humour. It obviously struck a chord with my sense of humour, and by the time I had finished buying the comics in the early 1980s, I had amassed over 300 of them.
While I loved Buster, Whizzer and Chips, and Britain’s quasi-answer to MAD Magazine, Krazy, my favourite was Cheeky Weekly. Much like The Simpsons started off as a small cartoon segment on The Tracy Ullman Show before becoming a pop culture force in their now right, Cheeky was originally just one member of the Krazy Gang, which featured in Krazy naturally enough, as well as the star of its “‘Ello, It’s Cheeky” feature before getting his own comic.
The first issue was published on 22 October 1977, and I remember being ridiculously excited at the thought of Cheeky having an entire comic to himself. I used to pester the long-suffering news agent in Alstonville for new issues and he often had to open up new strapped together shipments of magazines and comics to find the new issue I had to have that very minute. I couldn’t wait to spend time with my friend Cheeky again.
Cheeky Weekly managed to hang on for 117 issues before it was merged into its stable-mate Whoopee!, where it appeared at the start at least as a 16 page insert. It saddened me at the time that Cheeky had lost the prominence I thought he deserved but it was my first taste of what happens to a creative title when economics turn against it.
But while he lasted, Cheeky was fun to read. Granted the humour, on one level at least, wasn’t terribly clever. It relied heavily on puns, child-level innuendo (so very mild) and the sort of humour that fuelled Monty Python and The Goodies, whom I adored.
At that stage, Australia wasn’t as heavily influenced by American pop culture as it is now and so my taste in humour gravitated largely to the absurdist, off centre literate humour that the Brits do so well (it still does in the main). Cheeky Weekly captured this internet British funniness perfectly, populating the comic with wonderfully eccentric characters, who though they may have sparred with Cheeky from time to time nonetheless created a lovely Vicar of Dibley-esque world where everyone belonged and everyone’s behaviour, no matter how wacky, made perfect sense.
It may sound odd to say but I grew to love living in that world. My absorption into this wholly unique fictitious place was aided by the fact that unlike many comic strips in these books that only appeared once an issue, Cheeky was afforded a strip per day of the week which meant you got to see a lot of his life unfold, and by extension were exposed to many more characters than would otherwise be the case. That created a much more rounded identity for Cheeky, his friends and neighbours and the world in which they lived.
For instance I got to see Cheeky racing home to see his favourite TV show or babysitting Baby Burpo or attending the Saturday matinees at his local cinema (the films were represented as strips themselves). Admittedly there wasn’t the sort of cohesive narrative you might get in a book or film, or a Marvel or DC Comics book but that was hardly the point.
Cheeky antics were designed to provide space for gag after gag and really when it came down to it many of the strips were simply a hilarious string of gags one after the other. But cumulatively they managed to flesh out a full life for Cheeky and I honestly felt like I know him, which would have been the ultimate accolade for his cartoonist, Frank McDiarmid, who like any creator wants fans to identify in some form with their creation.
I certainly did. Cheeky had the loveable brashness of Bugs Bunny, the cockiness of a found boy but tempered with genuinely warm relationships with his friends, and a sense of adversarial fun with those he regularly clashed with, rather harmlessly really.
He was a joy to see again and again each week, and reading Cheeky Weekly allowed me once again to escape into another world where you could get away with anything and people would still be a part of your world anyway week after week.
And he has stayed with me. For one thing I am blogging about him, and I am also collecting his comic books again via Ebay and other fora, and while I am think I have outgrown lots of things in my life, you never really outgrow childhood friends do you?
Of course you don’t.