If You Wonder WHO Cast Iron Chris Is You’ll Ask WHAT Is The Iron Boy!!

When I first came across The Iron boy I chuckled.  However, as you do when you get older, I then started questioning the very concept.
The character is, of course, another one of those oddities from the Swan Comics stable. What do we know?
Who was the artist?  No idea. Again, that old problem of not signing work. Whoever it was he kept forgetting the ‘arms’ of the spectacles.  What is really needed are samples of strips that are signed and have this distinctive style.  Good luck with that!
We know the series was contemporary so 1940s to early 1950s.  However, take a look at how this Swan marvel is dressed.  Almost girlish –almost medieval page boy but he is wandering around with no hassles.  Well, no hassles until it comes to metal.
You see, Tim –yes, The Iron Boy has a name!- was “Bred on a diet of tintacks and iron filings Tim was almost solid metal!”
Okay, we’re back to that “suspension of disbelief” here.  Oh, like soggy pancakes I am!  Can you imagine a comic strip being published today in The Beano or The Dandy about a boy eating tin-tacks and metal filings??  National newspaper and TV outrage fuelled by some “concerned parent” (who probably feeds his/her kids on too much pizza and sweet food).
Who was it looking after Tim?  Well, we know he has an uncle.  He says so and reveals that this uncle only left him with steel flakes, nuts and bolt ‘salad’! In the strips reprinted in Black Tower Gold 6 Tim eats iron bars from a zoo cage, a roadworkers steel drill, suits of medieval armour –this just isn’t human!  But then, let’s look at some of his exploits.
He eats the iron bars from a tigers cage and the tiger bites into Tim’s head –and breaks teeth.
He can walk through solid brick walls and not notice.  He can dig a road up with a pick-axe at incredible speed.
He can fall from an aeroplane and land on an elephant and bruise it –he can also survive being thrown a distance by said elephant and land and knock out two full-grown lions!
In the death grasp of a python he can stretch and break free –tearing the python into three pieces!
Were Tim’s adventures after being dropped into Africa continued?
Anyone remember who was the fifteenth member to join DC comics Legion of Super Heroes in the 30th century?  Matter-Eater Lad who can eat and digest any substance without harm to himself.  Could it be….?  No, obviously not.  Besides, Tim eats metal almost exclusively.
So, if he eats metal it must be used up for energy, right?  Certainly he is strong beyond the simple explanation of “being almost solid metal.”  Now, okay, he digests and burns up the metal for energy but there is a bi-product of eating that I need to delicately touch upon.
“Number twos”, “pooping”, “Potty crocodiles”…I could go on but I hope you get my meaning?  1940s plumbing being filled with “metallic waste” is not a good combination.  That said, in the period concerned you would never ever refer to “matters of the toilet” so it wasn’t a problem back then.  But today, oh we want an explanation.  Right, he does not produce “waste”.
In fact, for the character’s upcoming modern appearances I solve all these questions.  The answer lies with one of Black Towers oldest characters.  “Who?” you ask. Well, you’ll have to wait and see!
For all the disregard Gerald Swan later showed to his comics, his line of books and creators came up with some great oddities and The Iron Boy ranks amongst the top ten…closely followed by Ingy Roob!
 Scans used with this article are lower quality than those in publications

Who On Earth Is “Cast Iron Chris”??


That’s what I tend to ask.  You see, this character, like many others, never had any sort of origin tale that I know of.  The Iron Boy is weird enough, but more about him another time.  These were just strips drawn to fill pages for a few shillings by creators who didn’t have the luxury of expanding beyond one page with sometimes nine panels.
To all intents and purposes, Cast Iron Chris is a British superman but without a costume and more in the mold of other characters such as Desperate Dan –one wonders whether that might have been the intention?  John “Jock” McCail seemed to be a mainstay of Gerald Swan’s line of Swan Comics (Ah Wong, Dene Vernon, etc.) and drew at least one Cast Iron Chris strip that I know of.
We do not even know who it was that created the character. This was all “throw-away” entertainment after all and few creators chose to sign their work from choice.  We do know that in Slick Fun No. 22 (1945), McCail depicts Chris getting into a battleships 20 inch guns and falls asleep –he is fired into a German naval vessels and his impact sinks it.
That’s pretty good invulnerability.
But there is more.  In Black Tower Gold (volume 4) I reprinted another Cast Iron Chris strip (it was sent to me with no issue credits I believe it is from the Slick Fun Album,1950).  In the opening panel Chris is having a letter “C” tattooed onto his chest…using a pneumatic drill as opposed to a tattooist needle!  He then loses a book down an open manhole cover where there is a gas leak –striking a match to find the book in the dark, Chris is blown hundreds of feet into the air.  He goes through the cockpit floor of an aircraft and jumps back down to earth carrying the pilot.
Now, if that ain’t super human then I have no idea what is!

This is certainly not John McCail’s art style.  Unfortunately, a lot of artists were still using the Tom Browne Style so it could be any one of a number working for Swan. McCail’s style was more “straight”.
One can use one’s imagination to work out an “origin” but, honestly, the reader being a youngster, was supposed to just accept it all –a suspension of disbelief as it were. And that’s how it was supposed to be.
I have used Cast Iron Chris in a Black Tower strip but not to any great extent.  In 2012 he will be back and then I may have to make up an origin!

Steve Dowling -Father Of GARTH!

Around 1999, I had an email from the grandson of Steve Dowling who was living in Canada.  I learnt that Steve had been bumped out of his job simply because he had reached 65 years of age (only in the UK!).  He then spent many years living off a poor pension.  Steve had no original art from his newspaper strip days to show his family -it’s why I was contacted because of my British Comic Books Archive project.

Apparently the family had asked the Daily Mirror newspaper if it could just get some photocopies of the pages for themselves.  No.  They asked then editor Piers Morgan (can I spit?) who basically responded that he had no time to waste of dumb comic strips (his hatred of them is well recorded).

I lost the email from the family when my old computer blew. IF Steve’s family in Canada read this then I have Garth strips I can offer on share file.
But now, the interview:

Published in ‘Ally Sloper’ #1, 1976, and reprinted in ‘Comic Bits’ #1, 2001. Denis Gifford conducts an on-stage interview at ‘Comics 101′ on 20 March 1976 with Garth creator Steve Dowling, who died in 1986.

STEVE: I might say that it’s been more than worthwhile to come all this way, because I thought nobody knew me any more, let alone thought me worthy of an award! Everybody’s been so kind to me and said so many nice things that I’ve really been rather overwhelmed by it all. Thank you very much, everyone.

DENIS: Well, we’ll get on to the British newspaper strip, which you were almost solely responsible for. You worked under several different names and different styles. How did it all start?

STEVE: It started by my going riding with a friend who did a strip called ‘Tich’ in the Daily Mirror, the ideas for which were supplied by my brother, Frank. Coming back from this event, rather full of liquor, unfortunately there was a car accident and the artist, Martin, died. And so I had to step into his shoes and was plummeted into the strip business in a rather shaky condition, having gone through the roof of a car! ‘Tich’ ran for some years. [from 1931 – DG]

DENIS: But you were an artist before this?

STEVE: I was in advertising. As a matter of fact, I was at the time Assistant Art Director for Dorland Advertising at the age of 24. I gave up my job at Dorland’s because I could do ‘Tich’ in one day a week – there were very few lines in the thing, very slick little drawings – and then I could go down by the seaside and put my feet up for the rest of the week, which was very nice indeed!

DENIS: There were strips in the Mirror before ‘Tich’, ‘Dud’ and ‘Jinks’ and so on – but after ‘Tich’ strips seem to blossom.

STEVE: Well, old Guy Bartholomew who was chairman of the Mirror was mad hot about strips. Having been an artist himself he regarded the strips as the main part of the paper. His opinion was that most people couldn’t read, anyway, and liked looking at pictures!

DENIS: What was the genesis of ‘Ruggles’, your first real strip?

STEVE: I think having seen American continuity strips. I got the idea for this character ‘John Ruggles’, an ordinary chap, and my brother who had quite a gift for humorous writing,wrote the words. In point of fact I think ‘Ruggles’ was the first continuity strip to appear in a national daily. The others were all daily incidents. The idea of having a serial story run in picture form was new in this country, although, of course, it had been done in America. I remember Cecil King, who was rather small-fry then, always wanted me to make ‘Ruggles’ build a shed in his garden, because his 14 year-old son had suggested the idea! If I had taken King’s advice ‘Ruggles’ garden would have been so stiff with sheds that he wouldn’t have been able to move!

DENIS: Did you sit down and create ‘Ruggles’ as the average man with an average family?

STEVE: Very average! In fact we were trying to write down to the readers, a thing one should not do! Trying to make the strip as like the family life as we could. After a time my brother gave it up – he became the editor of the Picture Post instead – and I took it over. I tried to strengthen the storyline and some of the humour went out of it.
Steve Dowling receiving an Ally Sloper award from Denis Gifford and Bob Monkhouse at Comics 101

DENIS: Why did you sign it with a pseudonym: ‘Ruggles – by Blik’?

STEVE: Oh, that was just a short name like: ‘Tich – by Dart’.

DENIS: And: ‘Belinda Blue Eyes – by Gloria’?

STEVE: Oh, I was just one of a long line of Glorias! That was actually written in the first place by Bill Connor, who later became Sir William, ‘Cassandra’. He wrote it to order for Bartholomew the chairman. Everybody took a hand in those days. Basil Nicholson, the editor, who was the man who re-modelled the Mirror, his idea of having a comic strip was to have a different person every day slipping on a banana skin. One day a clergyman, the next day a policeman; he thought that was the level of public understanding.

DENIS: Later ‘Ruggles’ featured the public actually in the strip. How did that unique series come about?

STEVE: They thought the strip was flagging a bit and Philip Zec, who was then the strip editor, asked me to come up with a twist. Well, Wilfred Pickles on the radio was then ‘Meeting the People’ and I thought I would try this in strip form. I took some roughs into Zec, who didn’t think much of the idea. He took it to the chairman, and next day I got a telegram from Zec: “Please draw some more along the lines I suggested.” Well, I did, and Zec got into trouble for claiming it was his idea – it became the chairman’s idea! But I must say that the idea eventually reverted to me – when they found that the series didn’t go down very well!!

DENIS: Why did ‘Ruggles’ come to an end?

STEVE: Well, they felt it wasn’t pulling. They asked for letters and, of course, more people will write and say they don’t like a thing than those who do, so ‘Ruggles’ went.

DENIS: And so, we come, at last to Garth. How and why did he begin?

STEVE: I had been writing and drawing ‘Belinda . . .’ and not enjoying it very much. Then they found another artist, Tony Royle, to take it on, so they asked me to produce another strip in order to justify my salary. It took me about three months to think up Garth and draw the first three weeks’ strips. The chairman thought that was rather too long – so he docked my pay!

DENIS: Did you set out to create a British equivalent to ‘Superman’?

STEVE: No, ‘Terry and the Pirates’ was my great influence, if anything. I was rather interested in Tibet, and the Forbidden City, and the magic that was there. For instance, in the beginning Garth was resuscitated by the ‘kiss of life’ from a rather attractive young woman called Gala. Well, the ‘kiss of life’ was not known here then, but I had read about it in a book on Tibet.

DENIS: Garth was a man of mystery. Did you have a solution in mind from the start?

STEVE: Oh, no. I had no solution at all. I had no more idea who Garth was than the reader!

DENIS: One mystery was that Garth drifted in from the sea, and there is no sea around Tibet!

STEVE: Artistic licence!

DENIS: Another striking feature was the constantly bared bosom of one of Garth’s girlfriends.

STEVE: One had to fight to show a little in those days.

DENIS: A “little”? I’d call it a lot! I suppose the exposure was very calculated?

STEVE: Oh yes. I certainly enjoyed drawing it.

DENIS: Why did you stop drawing Garth?

STEVE: I had to. I was freelance up to 1949. Then I joined the staff to get a pension, and when I reached the age of 65 I had to go. That was the rule, so I went.
Self drawn illo for Ally Sloper Magazine

Mick Anglo 1916-2011

Derek has just informed me that the legendary Mick Anglo died on Oct 31st 2011, aged 96.  Born on the 19th June, 1916, Maurice Anglowitz, Mick later went on to be a mainstay of the home grown British comic industry reprinting French strips in English and exporting English strips to Europe.

There can be little doubt that his most famous creation was Marvel Man –a character that replaced Fawcetts Captain Marvel reprints in his books.  So much has been written about the later history, its twists and turns, and all have taken focus off of what the strip was –FUN!  Hopefully he enjoyed some of the benefits of the sell off to Marvel Comics recently.

There is an interview by Derek and Roger Dicken in Alter Ego magazine #87.

Condolences go to his family.

A Mick Anglo Tribute

Derek has been in touch regarding an obituary for Mick Anglo:

“An obituary has been written about Mick Anglo by a Marvelman friend of mine, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, and he has sent me the link to the Forbidden Planet site where he has placed it.
The link is”
It is a  good tribute though I do disagree with Padraig’s final summation of Anglo who DID influence many creators, kids and the UK industry.