by Gavin Johnston on November 22, 2017

Writer & Artist: Ken Reid
Publisher: Rebellion


Britain has a long history of kid’s comics, telling short and humorous stories with anarchic prankster characters.

The British comic market was once dominated by publications like DC Thompson’s Beano or Dandy, or IPC’s Whizzer & Chips, or any number of other comics which have faded into and out of view since the 1930’s. The market has declined hugely since the Beano and Dandy were pulling in almost two million readers a week in the 1950’s, but you’ll still find them, in one form or another, filling the lower shelves of newsagents, promising lighthearted adventures and a free plastic toy.


It might seem odd that Faceache, a mostly forgotten strip that first appeared in the pages of Jet more than forty years ago, might be deserving of a hardback collected edition in Faceache: the First 100 Scrunges.


Stranger still that such an old fashioned and childlike collection of stories about a young boy able to pull hideous faces would feature an introduction by comic book revolutionary and practising magician, Alan Moore.


Moore’s introduction explains the role that Faceache, and more importantly his creator Ken Reid, played in the development of British comics and British culture.


For generations in Britain, comics such as these were the introduction to the medium. Whilst American comics might have been filled with daring adventures of super humans punching Hitler, younger British readers read silly tales of characters who pulled pranks and got into trouble. The comics might have changed, but this tradition lives on. The mild mischief of Dennis the Menace or the Bash Street Kids, or the everyday heroism of Desperate Dan is passed from one generation to the next, parents reassured that their children will be entertained and not faced with anything too morally questionable.


Faceache, who first appeared in the pages of Jet comic in 1971, is the story of Ricky Rubberneck, a boy with a “bendable bonce”, able to contort his face, and sometimes his whole body, into any shape. Ricky uses this talent to get into all sorts of scrapes – fooling friends, surprising his neighbours and tricking bullies.


In this hyperreal version of childhood, children have superpowers. More modern comics might reassure with the message that there are heroes in the world and that kids can join them if only for a radioactive insect bite or toxic leak. But Faceache, as with many of these British comics, empowered younger readers. Pulling weird faces, or just being enough of a rascal, becomes a superpower. It defeats villains and saves the day. At the same time, with this great power comes great responsibility, and Ricky is just as likely to be a victim of his own hubris as the hero of the tale.


Moore also contends that creator Ken Reid did more than tell silly stories for children. He was capturing a sort of collective madness found among the population in the decades following the second world war – the same post war surrealist humour found in the Goon Show.


Reid’s frequently anarchic art captures spitting, sweating, shuddering characters close to the edge of madness and struggling to maintain the British stiff upper lip. Faceache challenges the expectations of a restrictive society, refusing to show deference where it might be expected. The earliest victims Ricky’s pranks are an old soldier, an elderly lady and a young man from a wealthier family. Anyone in a position of authority is shown to be foolish, reduced to tears or to running away in fear from Faceache’s twisted faces.


Each of the hundred tales collected here takes up only a single page, crammed with more than a dozen panels, packed full of detail. Each week, new readers where introduced to the character and premise, and adventure was had and a resolution reached. There’s a non-stop, action filled joy to these pages, as moral lessons are taught and quickly forgotten in time for next weeks adventure.


Reid’s style transformed massively over a carer than spanned almost fifty years and the style found in this volume, which includes stories from the early 1970s, continues to inspire artists working in the medium of kid’s comics today.


The collection also includes a second introduction, by Ken Reid’s son Anthony J Reid. It’s a touching memorial to his father which notes that whilst many hundred of thousand’s of children might have enjoyed Reid’s work each and every week, the adult world was often dismissive of the work and passion poured into every page. Producing comics wasn’t a “proper job” done by mature grown ups.


Ken passed away in 1987. He was an inspiration to generations of comic creators and to generations of comic readers.


Faceache: the First 100 Scrunges isn’t a collection for everyone. For modern readers perhaps unfamiliar with the medium of kid’s humour comics such as Jet or Buster, or who don’t feel an affinity for this unique style of comics, the stories might feel strange and childish. But Ken Reid’s work deserves to be remembered in this way, and deserves to be brought to a whole new audience. The world continues to be far too serious a place, and can only be made a happier and healthier one with more creators like Ken Reid, more Faceache, and more pulling faces.  

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A Look Inside