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More vintage British comic capers, this time with the 1978 Tiger Annual which can still be purchased online and is 127 pages long. Am I the only person in the world collecting these annuals now? Probably. These books are generally good fun with a range of different art and some great characters. Tiger was a sister publication to Roy of the Rovers and features all manner of sportsmen rather than just footballers and I think, at its best, it was probably a better overall comic than its more famous cousin. The annual begins with a full colour strip involving more grappling adventures for Native American wrestler Johnny Cougar. Johnny is fighting Les 'The Bull' Carter but will not take centre stage for once because his skinny 'beatnik' (he calls Johnny 'baby' and 'cat' a lot) friend and trainer Splash Gorton has agreed to fight some character called Foxy Fowler (who he has a feud with) on the same bill. Johnny is not pleased that Splash has agreed to wrestle and becomes distracted in his own fight as a consequence. Johnny Cougar is my favourite Tiger character and these full colour Cougar strips are really good. There is an enjoyably surreal moment here when Cougar's Tiger friends turn up to watch the fight, all dressed in their sporting uniforms. Skid Solo even has a crash helmet!
Next up is Roy of the Rovers, in this case the scratchy red and black art rather than the classic full colour stuff. Melchester have a UEFA cup game away to Drargscon in 'Central Europe' and consider it a noble gesture when their hosts put a plane from their national airline at their disposal to take them there. All is not that it seems though. Melchester are left waiting at the airport for hours, their plane is diverted, they are taken to their hotel along bumpy back roads in an old bus, fans outside the hotel keep them awake all night, their hotel is next to a train station, etc, etc. 'I'm beginning to have a few suspicions,' says Roy. 'There are just too many things going wrong.' Yes, these dastardly foreigners are trying to sabotage Melchester's preparations! This is one of those strips that causes the daftometer to self-destruct in confusion and then crosses some sort of logic dimension to become quite entertaining. There does seem to be a 'don't trust foreigners!' subtext to these old comics at times.
There is an equally daft Billy's Boots strip in the annual, this strip all about young Billy Dane who owns a pair of old football boots that once belonged to the legendary Dead-Shot Keen. The boots make Billy play like Dead-Shot but without them he's worse than a sedated Emile Heskey. Here, millionaire Hugo Smith-Watson steals Billy's boots because his son is playing against Billy's school in the cup final and he's heard Billy Dane is hopeless without his old-fashioned boots. You'd think that a successful millionaire would have better things to do with his time than sabotage school cup finals! The black and white art is nothing special but not bad and it's always fun to see Billy have to play in normal boots and fall over his own feet as he misses countless sitters. There is a Skid solo strip too, Skid Solo of course the ace British racing driver. Skid Solo is not my favourite strip but the colour art is great. Here, Skid has a nightmare about crashing at the German Grand Prix and must decide whether to race or not after this unsettling nocturnal vision.
There's a Nipper strip in this annual too. Nipper is Nipper Lawrence, a young footballer for first division Blackport Rovers. Here, the summer has arrived and Nipper is playing in a charity cricket competition with a host of famous sportsmen. He manages to get into a feud with hulking wrestler Wayne Morgan and their subsequent comic battle plays out on the cricket field. The b&w art is so-so but I quite liked the way they dropped in a few liberal daubings of green during the cricket panels. The best individual story in the annual award goes to Hot-Shot Hamish. Hot-Shot Hamish is Hamish Balfour - a big lunk brought from a Hebridean island to play for Princes Park in the Scottish first division. The story starts with Hamish playing for Princes and nearly breaking the net with his famous 'hot-shot'. We cut to some eskimos watching these events on a television with an igloo in the background! One of the eskimos, a giant character named Karki, says he is a harder kicker of a football than Hamish Balfour and they all start arguing. The next day a bloke with a bowler hat from the government turns up at Princes Park and tells Hamish and the manager Mr McWhacker they must go to the country of Blizardia and settle this eskimo dispute. Hamish must engage in a football kicking contest with Karki! The art here is excellent.
The final strip is Tornado Jones. I wasn't familiar with Tornado Jones but it transpires he is a Aussie daredevil stunt rider who calls everyone 'cobber'. Here, Tornado is doing his stuff at a display but receives a most unusual offer from an anachronistic character who looks like he's just stepped off the set of a horror film set in the Victorian era. He wants Tornado to show how brave he really is by entering his 'House of Horrors' - a place that no one can even enter usually. It leaves men 'gibbering with fear'! Can our Antipodean hero survive this spooky assignment? A strange but enjoyable strip (although you'll see the ending coming a mile away), Tornado Jones has blue and black art and is as enjoyably daft as most of the other stories on offer here. The last story to mention is another Johnny Cougar adventure. This is by far the longest and split into two parts. It's b&w and you would presume of an earlier vintage. It's not bad though and features Johnny and his manager Bill becoming mixed up with a nutty wrestler known as The Clown.
The annual is padded out with photos, quizzes and a few text stories. I quite enjoyed the section on boxer John H Stracey myself but some of this stuff comes across as filler and you buy the annuals for the strips and Tiger characters really. On the whole, this is great fun but perhaps not the best of the vintage annuals I've read since starting to pick these up. The 1982 Tiger Annual, for example, I think is stronger than this one. Certainly though, anyone interested in classic British comics should enjoy this quite a lot.