Time for some downsizing action

The Sun (British newspaper) ran a story branding the comic 'The Seven Penny Nightmare'.

Over the long hot summer of 1976 the British press whipped themselves up into an outraged fury over the UK teenage boys' comic "Action". My friends and I bought a copy every Saturday... price 7 pence.

The comic featured violently gory stories which paralleled movie and real-life favourites of the era:

  • Hook Jaw (Jaws)
  • Death Game 1999 (Rollerball)
  • Dredger (Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry)
  • Blackjack (Rocky / Mohammed Ali)

Parents worried, according to the newspapers, about the impact this graphic violence was having on impressionable young minds. However, I remember my dad enjoying a flick through my copy of "Action" every now and then.

As kids, we just couldn't wait each week to see how high Hook Jaw's bloody death count would be. It was all detailed in glorious colour on the centre pages.

KIDS RULE OK!

The un-doing of the comic came towards the end of the year, when the new story, 'Kids Rule OK', caused concern to the point of debate in the House of Commons over the outrageous violence. In a world where older people were getting killed off by a deadly virus, teenagers were free to run amok. And they did, brandishing chains and knives, and generally causing mayhem.

BANNED !

On Saturday 23rd October 1976, thousands of boys across the UK were in for a big shock. There was no sign of "Action" on the newsagents' shelves. It had been banned.

Several weeks later, on 4th December, the comic returned in a much watered-down format.

  • 'Hook Jaw' had been moved from the centre pages, so blood only flowed in black and white, and the deaths took place 'off-screen'
  • 'Look Out For Lefty', a football story which was my least favourite, now took pride of place on the colourful middle pages
  • 'Death Game 1999' had been re-branded as 'Spinball'
  • 'Kids Rule OK' had simply disappeared, replaced by some bland racing cars drama

I continued to remain a loyal, though slightly disappointed reader. The comic limped along for another year or so, but when I look back I can't even remember what happened in stories like 'Slater's Steamer', 'The Loner' or 'Jinx Jackson'.

Nothing from the tamed post-ban issues is burned into my mind like the horrific surprise death of Rick Mason, Hook Jaw's long-time heroic adversary, from one of the pre-ban issues.

END OF AN ERA

The post-ban version of the comic died with a whimper at the end of 1977.

The cover of the 12th November issue of "Action" announced 'Exciting news inside!'

The 'exciting news' was that "Action" would be no-more. It was to be merged with "Battle", which featured mainly war stories.

I never bought a single copy of "Battle-Action".

My comic-buying days were over.

CLEARING OUT

Vanessa and I have recently started the process of downsizing again! We head off to the States in April, and will be selling the little van we've had for the past 18 months.

We've gathered quite a bit of 'stuff' and need to lighten the load again.

For me this will be the fourth major downsize in my life, although this time it is on a much smaller scale than the previous three.

DOWNSIZE #1 - MOVING "DOWN UNDER"

My first huge downsize was in 2001, when my wife and I decided to move from the UK to live in Australia. We were in rented accommodation at the time, so had furniture to sell, along with all the things we'd both collected over the course of our lives to that point.

We sold pretty-much everything we had. For me the hardest things to let go of were my various sets of sports equipment - climbing gear, motorcycle clothes and equipment, wetsuits - all sold at car boot sales for far less than I felt they were worth.

And my collection of music CDs. I digitised most of my favourites, so still had access to much of my music.

However, one thing I couldn't bring myself to sell was my collection of "Action" comics, along with the Summer Specials and Annuals I had kept in pristine condition.

I boxed them up carefully and stored them in my mum's attic.

DOWNSIZE #2 - A LIFE FOR SALE

In 2008, in Australia, after my wife and I separated, I decided to downsize again. This was by far the most radical downsize of my life, and became a very public event.

After the divorce I'd realised it was time to sell up and move on, as that part of my life was obviously over.

I had the idea of selling my 'whole life' on eBay, and when I announced my intention to do so, the worldwide press coverage was astonishing.

I planned to sell everything as one single item, and leave Australia with just one set of clothes, and my wallet and passport.

I'd forgotten that I still owned a collection of comics, stored in mum's attic back in the UK.

DOWNSIZE #3 - PARADISE SOLD

Vanessa and I met in 2013, and lived together on my little island home in Panama for a year. The island was already up for sale when we met, and we knew our future would revolve around travel and house sitting.

It took a while to find a buyer, but when we sold up we left pretty-much everything with the new island owner, setting off with just one backpack each in May 2014.

This was my third major downsize, and was by far the easiest emotionally. This time I had very little attachment to any of the 'stuff' I owned, and it was very easy to just walk away and leave it all behind.

But my comics were still there, tucked away in the darkness.

A PERIOD OF INACTION

Vanessa and I have spent most of the past 18 months house sitting here in the UK, and have had much more time to spend with friends and family.

My mum has asked on several occasions, "When are you going to get rid of that box of mouldy old comics in the attic? It's probably full of moths."

I've put off dealing with this for over a year, using the old "I'll get around to it when I have time..." excuse.

The real reason was that I just couldn't bear the thought of getting rid of this vivid part of my youth. The idea of just putting them in the recycling was unthinkable.

Over Christmas I realised the "I don't have enough time" excuse was no longer valid. With some longer sits coming up I did have time. I got the box out of the attic and crammed it into the over-stuffed van with the rest of our belongings.

Maybe, I reasoned, being 43 years old, and having had their 1970s moment of infamy, they might be collectible..?

I did some research online... going back to eBay again... and discovered there were quite a few issues of "Action" listed online. Prices were encouraging, but none of them seemed to actually be finding buyers, and I wondered if there really was a market for them.

The box remained in the back of the van for several more weeks, as I failed to act, reluctant to face the potential disappointment of nobody wanting to buy my childhood memories.

It was a heavy burden to carry, both physically for the van, and emotionally for me.

TIME TO LET GO

At our last house sit I buckled down and got to work, photographing each cover, and listing them online. I set my prices way lower than those that didn't seem to be selling, and was pleasantly surprised by the response.

I got messages, questions and comments, and a lot of bids and offers too.

The best sum I received for a single issue was £12.50... not bad compared to my original 7p investment. Most pre-ban issues sold for £4 to £5, and post-ban issues for £3.

My biggest success was with the 8 Annuals and 4 Summer Specials I owned - I believe a complete set of every special ever printed. They were still in pristine condition, and a buyer in the States purchased the lot for £260.

Overall I'll raise around $600 when all are sold... not bad for "mouldy old comics in the attic." (Mum's words, not mine!)

I'm down to the last 15 issues still to sell as I write this.

It's not all about the money, although it will come in handy, of course.

I am just happy that the comics have gone to people who really appreciate them, and who will get a lot of pleasure from them.

It would have been far harder to put them in the bin, knowing they'd be pulped, never to be seen again.

EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT

Isn't it funny... the things to which we have the biggest attachment?

I have known for years that my box of childhood memories was going to be one of the hardest things to deal with.

Before I listed them for sale I really did feel worried that they wouldn't find a buyer, and that I would find it all an emotional wrench.

But once the sales started coming in my mood lightened, and I became quite enthusiastic, enjoying mailing the comics to their excited new owners.

And once again, as in previous downsizes, I have been amazed by the feeling of lightness and freshness that comes with off-loading this huge chunk of the past.

I only have 15 more issues to sell, and they'll soon all be gone... well, almost!

Apparently I'm not quite 100% ready to let everything go...

I'm keeping one copy, and plan on framing the front cover. It is one of the iconic issues, with Hook Jaw causing terror and mayhem in New York. Quite fitting, I think, as New York is one of our next destinations.

Maybe one day I'll have a wall to put my framed cover on.

Best wishes,

Ian (and Vanessa)

(currently house sitting in Maidenhead, UK)

MORE ACTION

Find out more about the story behind "Action" in these two great articles:

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare

Too much action: how kids' comic Action drowned in its own ultraviolence


THE DIFFICULTIES OF DOWNSIZING

  • Have you downsized, or are you considering doing so?
  • What was / will be the hardest thing to get rid of?
  • Do you struggle with emotional attachment to 'stuff'?
  • What do you own that you just can't let go?

  • February 15, 2020

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