Back in the early 1960’s, in the UK and Ireland, comics were not the world – conquering communications medium that they are now regarded as. After the pleasures of the easily accessible, more locally produced children’s comics[bought at the newsagent shop with the daily newspaper], any imported from,for example, America, were more of an “underground” pleasure in that they had to be sought out from obscurity and were erratically distributed.In Ireland and the UK, unlike in America, distribution was, at best, spotty. Many comics were loaded into  ships’ holds as bundles of ballast that eventually filtered through to small family -run Mom and Pop shops in towns across the country. They ended up on spinner racks or in a haphazard bundle in the corner of the shop. They were treated as cheap goods for children  to be bought with the newspapers and cigarettes.They had certainly not become the world -straddler that inspired film directors to make large amounts of money nor indeed re-branded as “graphic novels” to  conjure up critical  intellectual reviews in the quality newspapers.



Since writing this original article some years ago  about the origins of Comics Fandom in Ireland and the UK  in the mid 1960s, there have been a few recent developments. Just when I thought the story was  all but over , it seems that some fifty years later , Tony  has  finally been given the opportunity to tell the  whole tale in his own words, as to how Comics Fandom began in Ireland with only a handful of  us enthusiastic teenagers.Myself , Tony and possibly one other Irishman came in on the ground- floor with some thirty -odd English enthusiasts also joining in the fun , to start that particular ball rolling . It is a very enjoyable story, told in some detail and I (and my late mother, who assuredly saved Tony’s teenaged life with applications of tea and sandwiches at one point(!) )….am pleased to have played some part in its telling.Tony  , having started something of a cultural phenomenon later  went on to become a professor at UCD (University College Dublin’s School of English, Drama and Film ) until his recent retirement in early 2016. Fifty years later, he looks back Read it all here in “Journey Planet “#31 :

DECEMBER  2018 :


Just as the digital ink was “drying” on the virtual presses of “Journey Planet”#31 with its excellent interview with Tony, , “Heroes Unlimited” # 8 rolls off the ink and paper  21st Century presses some 50 years after what we all thought was the final issue in 1969…Now relegated to penultimate status , it is succeeded by the very fitting last issue as promised by Tony all those years ago, as we left our teenage-selves behind.Tony posted me a hard – copy earlier in the month , but for all those who might never feel its heft  in their trembling hands, here the stalwart lads of “Journey Planet ”  and major cheerleaders of the  princely ‘Heroes Unlimited”, have  come to the rescue and provided a special issue of their fine e-zine in its honour for all fans old and new to fully savour. Here is the whole thing plus introductions .This time I get to blow my own trumpet, once again, after 50 years  and I feel suitably proud to be in their company. :



…..and  take a look further down at some of those protean literary efforts….

mmf-3003 60 PER


Tony Rochewas the  originator of Comics fandom in Ireland and the UK back in the mid 1960’s when I too was caught up and contributed my comics  enthusiasm to his two comics fanzines, “Merry Marvel Fanzine” and  later “Heroes Unlimited” . The MMF came to my attention in the letter pages of “WHAM” comic.

Wham # 140 Feb. 1967

Wham had been launched  as  a rival to the Beano comic and featured some great artwork from ex -Bash Street Kids artist Leo Baxendale among others. By the time Tony Roche’s letter appeared in issue #140 in February 1967, the comic had begun to feature reprints of Marvel Comics characters such as the Fantastic Four.

Tony Roche’s letter in Wham #140 Feb.1967 on the launch of the Merry Marvel Fanzine.This is the moment when Tony reached out to comic fans throughout the UK and Ireland.

Tony’s enthusiasm for comics spilled off the page and he mentioned that he was starting a new “fanzine” dedicated to the form.That is where I came in. I was fourteen ,and quite  infected by comics madness ever since my uncle Paddy had bought me the Topper and The Dandy weekly comics, as a boy.I was already a “collector”, reading every kind of comic that I could find. There were all manner of  comics around at the time .There were the UK comics such as  The Eagle , Boys’ World, Rover and Wizard, The Hotspur, The Hornet, The Victor, Buster, The Valiant, The Beano, the Beezer and so on. Then there were  the  glossy covered American DC comics such as Batman , Superman , the Flash and Green Lantern, World’s Finest , Jimmy Olsen and so on.  The fat annuals and “80 page Giants” were a great way of finding older “origin” stories for all the characters.Dell, Gold Key , Charlton produced solid comics work too but they hadn’t the more glamorous characters even though they featured excellent artwork.  Then there was this strange little dowdy company ,”Marvel”. with its oddly coloured covers and cheap inner paper.These comics were radically different , somehow.They had a mystique about them . I had been buying the  UK produced “Alan Class ” thick reprint collections  at a shilling each, before I  ever realised that much of these tales  were old Marvel horror stories drawn by Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. These were dressed with  titles such as “Astounding”, “Amazing” and indeed they were  .  Many of those  stories were little morality tales masquerading as monster or sci-fi tales; good versus evil with some time-travel thrown in and usually a snap, shock -ending much like the stories of O Henry, which I’d previously consumed.

 I was already reading the, then very rare Marvel comics and  had come across Spider-Man #9, a battered copy of the first “Marvel Tales Annual” which featured all the origin stories of the characters. and several other titles such as the “Fantastic Four” , “The X-men”, “The Avengers” (I came in with the revival of Captain America in issue #4 which I still have), Daredevil” and “Strange Tales”, “Tales of Suspense” and “Tales to Astonish” which carried  then peripheral characters such as Doctor Strange, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Ant Man and Captain Fury and Agents of SHIELD. There were even a few Western and War comics titles and Marvel also began a series of reprints in titles such as “Fantasy Masterpieces” and “Marvel Collectors Item Classics”, in which they dipped backed into their 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s catalogue; all the horror and suspense stories were there alongside the original Captain America stories ,the  Human Torch and the Sub Mariner. All of these creations would go on some fifty years later to dominate the cinema screens of the world but to some of us they were simply a secret  underground pleasure in the shadow of the much duller, if better printed , Superman DC  National comics lines .Such was the feeling of mystique that I was  primed and ready to get involved further. I wrote to Tony  and subscribed to to his little  “Merry Marvel Fanzine” ,arguably the first substantial attempt at a magazine about comics anywhere in Ireland or the UK.

In the beginning , known comics fandom seemed to consist of about only thirty five of us enthusiasts spread across Ireland and the UK .Certainly, in my own hometown of Armagh in Northern Ireland I knew nobody who was quite as obsessed with comics as I was. At my grammar school there were only two in my class remotely interested in art of any kind and I had to fight to get an art- class started .My first art  teacher was an excellent  local painter  called Hugh Largey who  quietly showed me a few basics while the remainder of the class “sagged-off” to enjoy a rare free-period. He advised on my modest quiver of  brushes and colours and encouraged me to throw inhibition aside and “just paint”. His concentration was on the artists from Giotto to Cezanne and he attempted to give me a grounding beyond the books I was consuming. This was my first  “real” art instruction from a proper painter who understood these arcane notions of tone , composition and philisophical meaning . I was later to go to the Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds to be tutored by abstract painter and best friend of the actor Peter O’Toole , Patrick Oliver and eventually land up in Manchester Fine Art , but it all started here. Comic art  was something else entirely and would then have been viewed  by general society as a “commercial”, slightly  philistine  or  “unclean affair”…a poor relation to  proper gallery art. There had been no critical books in circulation about this novel form back then. The 1960s began that trend with “The Penguin Book Of Comics”. Even comic artists did not seem to appreciate the uniqueness of their own specialised artform.They were printed mostly on the shoddiest material available and most people thought of them as “kids-stuff”. my mother would have called them “Comic Cuts”  after a comic of that name from her own younger years.At one time they’d been referred to as “Penny Dreadfuls”. There was one other lad at school, called Eugene  who was only slightly infected with the  comics virus  and I encouraged him to subscribe to Tony’s fanzine , but I have to concede that I must have been something of an oddity in that I was the only other comic fan in the whole of Ireland who initially answered Tony’s call to arms.Another southern  Irish fan later joined in time for the launch of  “Heroes Unlimited” after the three MMF issues, but we were very  few on the ground. It wasn’t as though I was some anti-social nerd either, who never left the sanctuary of his bedroom .Indeed , I had a wide circle of friends of both sexes, but none of them were into comics in the same way as I was .For me , they were a kind of magical talisman that transcended childhood’s  first enthusiasms.Ultimately it was all about storytelling, a trait that was in the family DNA already .We “real” comic fans must have been  a small group of either visionary ,or very odd fish .I think in retrospect we were a little of both.  That would have been the extent of both those involved and  the size of those   first print runs.In those days when virtually all correspondence was made through the mailbox, I picked up pen and paper and began to write  long , rambling letters of encouragement  to Tony. The instantaneity of  the modern  internet did not exist , so each letter or package through the post was impatiently awaited with bated breath.From such small beginnings……..


You can link to a FLIPBOOK of   a complete issue of MERRY MARVEL FANZINE # 2 here :

The first fanzine in the UK and Ireland, subsequently  ran for three issues from  1966/ early 1967 and  then the successor “HU” was laid to rest after issue number seven in the Summer of 1969.Both Tony and myself were already moving on…..

After this came a plethora of zines each taking advantage of the new technologies. The Merry Marvel  Fanzine and Heroes Unlimited, created and edited by Tony Roche and aided and abetted by  the likes of Ken Simpson, Ges Cleaver,Robert Poole  and Paul Neary  were, by general consensus, the first comic fanzines in the UK and Ireland, though, and like their creator are increasingly very difficult to find anywhere. I became one of a small group of subscribers, supporters  and letter writers. Fortunately , as a natural collector, I kept the majority of mine and bought back the missing issues  at some quite high prices . I haven’t now got my old issue of  MMF #1 [ the long foolscap issue] so if anyone is interested in sharing scans of this first issue, let me know! I still remember , as a fourteen year old fan , painstakingly one-finger typing out a copy of MMFANZINE #1 on a rackety old Remington typewriter so that fellow comics  fan Eugene Murray could  have his own personal copy and share in this great new discovery.The original was printed in that old blue fuzzy ink . Unfortunately Eugene’s copy could only be reproduced in black and white. There were no handy scanners or photocopying machines in the library back then. Dedication was a requirement!!


I have now  uploaded  “Flip Book ” versions  of my two issues of the “Merry Marvel Fanzine” and the full seven issues of “Heroes Unlimited”. You can see the full issues as flipbooks from the links below. Simply click on the covers and they will open for your enjoyment:

MMF #1


MMF #3









You can find links to them above but in the meantime  here are some covers and pages to give a flavour of our teenage passions.I’ll scan and add as many as possible in the future , time and patience permitting. Tony  dropped out of sight after Heroes Unlimited(See below for an update)  , probably pursuing other teenage interests like girls and music, but my own artistic leanings were to take me to art college three years later where I re-acquainted myself with comics through imported copies of classic underground comix and Dez Skinn’s door opening”Fantasy Advertiser”.

The first wave of American underground comix was all but spent by then but such was the alternate underground press that copies were coming through from  the Real Free Press in Holland and UK versions were being produced too.I picked up a copy of a UK produced version of Robert Crumb’s “Fritz the Cat”, whilst an art student  in Leeds. An excellent bookshop named  “Books” was the initial source . This excellent shop stocked all sorts of literature and was where I found a treasure trove of  bundles of underground comix and books on art.


It was situated just off the student campus. I happened upon an advert for Dez Skinn’s “Fantasy Advertiser inside this comic. That was my re-connection . FANTASY ADVERTISER ADVERT IN FRITZ THE CAT COMIC045

At this time I’d begun attempting some comic strip ideas myself, spurred on by the idea of those underground comix ,which required much  less space and materials  to produce than large oil paintings…..

 Tony was long out of circulation by this time.I hadn’t seen him for about six or seven  years by then and had , at this stage ,personally evolved into a long-haired hippy Fine Art student.He  still remains ,in large measure, some fifty years later, somewhat like Steve Ditko creator of Spiderman, an enigma. A part of my teenage past. Not entirely forgotten though.

It doesn’t take much, but Dez Skinn’s [Who started off his career in those same little fanzines and  subsequently became Mister Comics UK, the Stan Lee of UK Comics and the originator of most of the comics spawned here  in this past thirty years.}


kind  words of praise [ …see comments below….] has encouraged me to upload some of these fanzines in their entirety so if you flip the tabs above  you will find drop-downs for various issues of HEROES UNLIMITED as I find time to upload them.Recently, whilst browsing with Dave in Liverpool’s Waterstones, I came across Teal Triggs  “FANZINES” and therein was the cover of a hand-coloured copy of  HEROES UNLIMITED # 2.

HU #2 COVER001

I wonder was that one of Ges Cleaver and Robert Poole’s artistic jobs on Paul Neary’s artwork. It’s a funny old world out there.



You will find more detail of my involvement in MERRY MARVEL FANZINE and HEROES UNLIMITED in a nostalgic ramble  over four web pages at the following link ….the comics


and hopefullyas I scan and upload a selection of individual issues in the future, you’ll be able to check them out on the individual  dropdown tabs above in this section.

Also of interest is this link which appears to further bring the story up to date, especially page 17-22 which references my own memories .

Below  here is my own copy of “Merry Marvel Fanzine  #2 ” which has somehow become part of the focus for Dublin’s bid to bring the World Con to Dublin in 2019…

mmf2 competition page012 HU # 6 PAGE THREE004


Just when I thought the story was over , it seems that fifty years later , Tony has  finally been given the opportunity to tell the  tale in his own words as to how Comics Fandom began in Ireland with only a handful of enthusiastic teenagers. It is a very enjoyable story, told in some detail and I am pleased to have played some part in its telling.Read it here :

9 Responses to COMICS AND FANDOM

  1. Dez Skinn says:

    Brilliant stuff, Harry. There may not be many left who care, but this stuff needs to be recorded for posterity and I for one am glad you’re doing so!

  2. hi there
    i am so trying 2 get in touch & hope you can help me find any copys of MMF.
    i am in love with the “not so imperious rex” cover………
    i tried 2 email you, but it bounced back….. / didn’t work….
    anyway, all the best & please let me know, what my chances are 2 find a copy
    thank you so much

  3. Tony Roche says:

    Dear Harry. Tony Roche here. Great to see all my back pages on your blog. I have been retrieved from oblivion by Peter Hansen and will be appearing on a panel about the early years of British Comics Fandom at the Film and Comic Convention in Earls Court, London on Sunday July 13th at 2pm. It would be great to see you there, and if you could be accompanied by a copy of HU4 (which I no longer have) that would be even better. Best, Tony.

    • paddykool2 says:

      Hello Tony …A revelation! It’s lovely to hear from you so suddenly after all these years and to find you hopefully hale and well. On the date you mentioned I will be in Liverpool attending a Neil Young concert with a few friends and my daughter and her partner, so I’ll not be making it to London anytime soon .I am just about to set out for a friend’s 60th birthday bacchanal so it may be something of a lost weekend starting any minute now. Would you believe I recently re- created my Heroes Unlimited collection .I was missing one issue and had to stump up an astonishing £70.00 on e-bay for the pleasure of re-uniting!! I know …mad or what? It took me about ten years even finding it…. A guy was recently selling off MMF #1,2 and 3 …starting bid at £299.00. Tony we need a time- machine to get back to the 1960’s and stash away a few hundred of those little babies!!! Hope to hear from you again .Best, Harry

  4. James Bacon says:

    Harry, myself Padraig O’Mealoid and Chris Garcia are working on another issue of Journey Planet with Tony Roche, just about the Irish Comic Fanzines, can we get in touch directly? Many thanks. James

  5. Pingback: Dan Dare’s Number One Fan was … top Doctor Who artist Andrew Skilleter –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.