I was a Beezer fan, and I had gratefully accepted my grandmother’s offer to buy it on a weekly basis and bring it with her when she visited, each Wednesday. It seemed a good idea at the time, however, my local shop round the corner from our school took delivery of it on a Monday. I had become involved with Spacewhacker, a science fiction strip on the back page, and my overwhelming desire to sneak a view of that all-important series inevitably led me to the shop in my school lunch hour.
“Shepherds” was a large store with a newsagent section near the door. I soon learned that, if you sidled in with some other customers, by the time they were being served, you could have located the colourful mag and skilfully prised it forward against the elastic steel spring, and by cocking your head, you could quickly read the top half of the back page (or at least get the gist of the storyline from the pictures) before you were discovered, and without actually removing the comic from the stand. On at least one occasion I managed to read the entire page before being questioned. Unfortunately it didn’t take long before my “game” was discovered. Pocket money was scarce, and I couldn’t justify buying a copy, knowing granny would bring it later in the week. Eventually, she changed her routine, didn’t order it for me any more, and I was able to buy it on first sight on a Monday morning. Such a relief.
Science fiction had not yet hit television, and our only source was the ABC minors Saturday morning cinema, with some rather corny serials whose visual effects seemed amateurish even to a seven year-old. However, Spacewhacker seemed a more realistic proposition altogether. The artwork was simple but effective and somehow credible.
The Purple Planet, the location for the strip, featured landscapes and detailed vegetation that you could believe in. The main characters, Slim, Bob and Tess, were part of an Australian family who were on an expedition to explore the planet in the “Spacewhacker”, a vehicle that looked like a giant red milk float. Bob and Tess were portrayed as able and plucky teenagers, and obviously brother and sister, but I was never quite sure if the youthful but grey-haired Slim was an older brother or their father.
The “Whacker” as it was often referred to, was driven by electricity and had two means of propulsion – on eight steerable rubber rollers on flat terrain, or could walk on extended stilts on more difficult landscapes. It could also operate under water, but needed time to close its air ports. They got into deep trouble on one occasion when, outrunning some enemy, they hit the water before the ports could be closed, rendering the vehicle inoperable for some time, before emergency repairs could be carried out. The external casing could also be electrified, proving useful when hostile natives ensnared it with their nets and proceeded to clamber over the outside. They all received a nasty shock, enabling the “Whacker” and its crew to escape.
By the time I started reading the Beezer, Spacewhacker was already well into its series. The crew had picked up a local, called “Charlie Greenskin”, who was a rather thin humanoid with a green skin, an oval shaped head and large ears. He had a language of his own (Urka urka I believe was one of his phrases, but DC Thomson were enlightened enough to provide us with an English translation.)
I was a great dinosaur fan around this time, and was thrilled to note that Purple Planet played host to several familiar species. Another useful feature were “flying pumpkins” – a kind of elongated gourd, conveniently sized so that the erstwhile passenger could sit comfortably astride one, leaning back to puncture it at the rear with a knife, releasing its gas, then severing the stalk, allowing the vegetable to take to the air, bearing the rider along with it until it eventually ran out of gas.
However it was the empire of the Ramins that really grabbed my imagination. The first sight of this blue-skinned race was of a guard in Roman-style uniform standing watch over a strange walled and moated city. When he took off his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow, he revealed an angular face with a sharp pointed nose. His name, if I recall, was Zarco Khan.
The Ramins were a warlike people, who had captured and enslaved some of Charlie Greenskin’s relatives to work in their plantations, so it was up to our heroes to overthrow this regime and rescue the enslaved greenskins. The actual details of this adventure now escape me (it was some fifty years ago....) but I remember being quite taken with the drama of it all.
I believe the “Spacewhacker” series had evolved from an earlier strip entitled “Bushwacker”, which involved Slim, Bob and Tess back in Australia, cavorting about on a simpler vehicle which seemed to be a cross between a dinghy-sized yacht and a large skateboard. If anyone has further recollections of either of these strips, or indeed is willing to sell, share or post here scans that they may have, I would be glad to hear from them.
The Spacwhacker ran from issue 322(17.03.62) to 422(15.02.64). It was illustrated by Terry Patrick. Further adventures continued in the annuals 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1970