Friday, 18 October 2013

Millie the Model meets the Gears


Following on from my Pop Pic Library post in May, here's another 1960s comic twist on the burgeoning beat music scene. This time from the USA - and the pages of the great Marvel Comics, at the time when a series of 'British Invasion' bands were idolised by the record-buying teens of that nation.
Marvel's Millie the Model had been strutting the catwalks since the end of WW2, but by the mid-60s she'd become infatuated by swinging with the most happening band around - The Gears. A half English, half American combo - whose groovy "go go" sound is - and I quote the band themselves - "one big explosion", and "compared to us, the Hydrogen Bomb is a firecracker".
Millie Collins gets to hang out with The Gears - a fab foursome with the "hard-driving Liverpool Sound". She'll pop on a miniskirt as she dances to their ever-boppin' never-stoppin' beat, and she even gets to sing on stage with them. The Gears make their US television debut on 'The Red O'Hara Show' (Issue No.135) which sees them dazzling the audiences, and landing on the front page of 'Variety' - the headline proclaiming "Gears Great A Go-Go!".

It all began in February 1966

No 135 - Millie and the Gears make a splash

Go, Girl, Go

I hear this combo really swings - and swing it does

September 1966, and Millie visits Swinging London

Oh, what a let down. I bought issue number 141 on the strength of the Millie & The Gears team-up cover - with the expectation of glamourous Millie exploring London's grooviest spots. But instead, she just ends up partying in a dreary countryside castle owned by the father of an aristocratic secret agent. It may have been fun for her (and her American readership), but I was looking forward to seeing Marvel-style realisations of the swinging City...

...but then after scanning the above page, it became very apparent that the creative team behind 'Millie the Model' had no intention of even bothering to conjure up the London look. In this rather hopeless bottom panel, we have a green double decker bus - and a Routemaster it ain't - and the most useless rendition of a London Taxi ever! So perhaps the castle was a better location after all...

Anyway, nearly a year on, in June 1967, the Gears are back on the front cover - and this time in Marvel's  'Modeling with Millie' Issue No.54. The comic would actually turn out to be the very last issue of  Millie's spin-off title, but it did have a "Positively a Roof-Rockin Happening" finale...


The Music is Gonesville

The Gears are touring the States again, and get a six page story set in ABC television studios, and enough lines for their 'greatsville' lyrics to fill up the musical speech bubbles with such crafted lines as....

and Millie "shakes to the beat on Carnaby Street" on stage, as a guest singer (dressed in a strip-strap swinging style, designed by reader Gina from Brooklyn) for a band that for a couple of years had captivated the hearts of Millie and her female followers, and then silently slipped out of fashion.
it's a mod, mod, world

Perhaps those who know far more than I do about Millie's backstory will have an insight into what happened to the American-born half of The Gears. We're told that they're Joe and Russ Brockman, who in fact went to school with Millie in Sleepy Gap, Kansas - and were always feuding - just like the Davies brothers of The Kinks (who were less kookier than the Gears).

Maybe the Brockman boys were handed their draft papers, and sent out to Vietnam?  Perhaps only to re-emerge as a bluesy rocking bar band after their return - but by 1973 Millie the Model comics were no more...

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Everything's Swinging at Rhyl

Sometimes an old picture postcard can offer up a wonderfully splendid image. I've come across two black and white cards published by the Bamforth Company of Yorkshire, once the world's largest publisher of illustrated comic postcards - and most famously the ones with those saucy gags that were stuffed into postcard racks of every seaside shop in the UK.

Well here in swinging sepia is the fabulous contrast between the stolid and conventional stock photograph of the seafront at Rhyl, North East Wales, and the twisting beats epitomising the groovy vitality of '60s teenage. The girls are fully rounded in typical Bamforth style, almost jerking out of a postcard which boldy proclaims how a mighty popular Victorian holiday spot has turned into a 'with-it' location for the nation's holidaying youth.

The serrated edges of the two postcards are a nice touch - locking these two pictures into a very particular time frame. Apparently Bamforth were so confident about this swinging 60s seaside design of theirs that they produced dozens of versions with the very same cartoon teens dancing at resorts up and down Britain's coastline.

Anybody up for starting a checklist?

...but it looks like we're the only ones on the dance floor

...but is anybody else?

Update October 2014. Here are several more from the same series:

'We're Right on the Beat at CLEETHORPES'

'Everything's Swinging at DOUGLAS(Isle of Man)

'Everything's Swinging at FILEY'
'We're Right on the Beat at BRIDLINGTON'

'Everything's Swinging at ABERGELE'

Tell me more about Bamforth's Swinging Couple...

Bamforth issued a super postcard with our swinging beat couple depicted in glorious COLOUR

The artist is credited - it's Bamforth's very own Arnold Taylor, who spent his working life bashing out joyous and naughty images like this for the Yorkshire-based company. 

The black and white seafront cards were created by cutting out and pasting Taylor's image onto stock photographic images. 

And what about our Beat Girls in Go-Go Bamforth Colour?:

Well, they had their very own colour postcard too...Version A
Version B

And guess what? The Go-Go Swingers even got to dance across the English Channel:

Still 'Right on the Beat' - but this time in French and Flemish too. This Belgian edition was published by Lux of Brussels.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


Scanned from my 35mm transparency taken in Havana, Cuba in May 1992