Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Madeline Smith, First Day Covers and Buster's Haircut

While not directly related to Comics, the names of Phil Stamp and Madeline Smith may be familiar to some fans in the UK.  What links them is one of the most interesting comic artists to work in British comics from the sixties through to end of the century.

Jack E Oliver is best known for a long running strip in the music newspaper Disc (later Record Mirror) that featured a strange mixture of characters.  He mixed his own creations, the Invisible Man and a talking dinosaur, Fresco-Le-Ray, with characters suggested or invented by readers and real people, mostly celebs who featured in adventures that, it is claimed, had John Lennon and Yoko Ono as fans.

One of the celebrities featured most frequently was actress Madeline Smith, with whom he appeared to have an unhealthy obsession, well-known from Hammer Horror films and adding glamour to TV shows like The Two Ronnies, Doctor at Large and as Erotica in Frankie Howard's Up Pompeii,   Smith, who had started her entertainment career as a model after working at the famous Biba Boutique, complained that Oliver's frequent depiction of her went beyond the bounds of taste and almost certainly felt that it was more than a little creepy.

Oliver, typically, made his reply through the strip.

In 1977 Record Mirror, which had absorbed Disc, cancelled Olivers' strip.  His work being seen as too old fashioned and out of touch with the music scene of the time. (If my memory serves me correctly that was something that could be said of Record Mirror in general).

He found work with comic publishers IPC mainly working on Buster and Whizzer and Chips and worked there until  Buster finally closed its doors in January of  2000.  Buster had been the last of a long line of traditional British comics from IPC/Fleetway, having absorbed many of the other titles along the way.   Oliver can be said to have been the artist who locked the door and switched out the lights on the IPC comic division, providing the only non-reprint artwork for the final issue of Buster.

His strip provided a single panel ending to all of the stories running in Buster at the time and was the only non-reprint material to appear in the final issue.  Tony Broke and Ivor Lott find themselves in new circumstances with the Broke family winning the lottery and the Lott's losing their shirts on their bad investment in the Buster comic.   Bobby, from the Bobby's Ghoul strip has grown old and his ageless ghostly girlfriend splits up with him as a result.

Finally, on removing his hat, Buster, the cover character throughout the comic's 40 year history (1960-2000), reveals that his hair style is exactly exactly the same as that of Dennis the Menace. It was a nice return to Oliver's irreverent ways from his Disc strip, the freedom of this being the last issue shows in his ideas.

Lew Stringer's Phil Stamp cover. 
With the demise of Buster, Oliver started looking for other work.  He produced newspaper strips and,  along with his cousin, Steve Oliver hit on the idea of producing specially printed first day covers for new British stamp issues and so Phil Stamp Covers was born.   Beginning in January 2000 and issued in limited editions of up to 70 sets, they produced 170 different covers featuring Oliver's character Phil Stamp.  Initially drawn by Oliver with occasional guest artists, including Mike Higgs and Lew Stringer, Hunt Emerson took over after J Edward died and was the main artist until Steve Oliver wound the business up at Christmas 2010.

J Edward Oliver had a varied and productive career in comics.  A web-site,, contains scans of most if not all of his Disc/Record Mirror strips and the stamp covers continue to grow in value. He came late to the world of traditional british comics and for me at least it is his Disc strip that is the most interesting, But to hold the distinction of being the man who drew the last strip for Buster, arguably the last real rival to the Beano, is quite a distinction.


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