I Was The Stan Lee of Sussex – Reappraising Fred Ace #1

Seeing as I spend my time on here tearing apart other people’s bad old content, I figured before karma comes for my head, I’d better tip out the bones from my own closet.

Cover

This magnificent comic is my first ever published work, Issue #1 of Fred Ace. Fred. What a cool and heroic name! None of this Max Power shit. My heroes had the names of fly-fisherman, real ale connoisseurs, and retired gardeners.

Before we get into it, a little bit of history. I can’t recall an exact date, but I think it’s from around 1989/1990, with August marking it as a summer holiday project. It was a co-production with my cousin, who’s a couple of years younger than me, and who I gave a shorter story in the back, as was tradition with a lot of the American comics we were obsessed with as kids. Comic-making and selling was a huge thing in our family, as a gang of boy-artists obsessed with superheroes, decades before you couldn’t move for the masked bastards.

As a pre-cursor to an adult life spent self-publishing poorly-selling books on Amazon, I made a proper venture of Fred Ace, painstakingly photocopying each page at the local library, gluing the whole thing together, then having my mum stitch the spines, which seems needlessly time-consuming, when we could’ve just stapled them. The result was a big box of comics, sold to family members who felt obliged to cough up £1.50 because we were children. £1.50 was double the cost of the photocopying, though a pretty poor outlay on labour, having to draw and write a whole 15 pages. Though I probably made more money than I have from Charlie and Me. Psychedelic Cheese Dip Comix, seen in the label at the top (and giving it both 90’s barrels of well-random humour and spelling things with an X), was my publishing imprint, which I really should’ve kept going. If I’d thought to release all my books under such a strong brand, I’d be living in a mansion now.

Let’s examine the cover. As will become clear, I was going for a martial arts/Eastern mysticism vibe, hence the rising sun. From a framing point of view, the thoughtful giant head isn’t a bad concept, but smaller Fred’s pose seems to say “I’m busting for a piss and a shit.” Also note my autograph scrawled on the front, because it’s a signed collector’s edition. My cousin signed it too, but he’s not consented to be part of this nonsense, so I Photoshopped his name off. Alright, let’s get into it.

Page 01

I saw myself as the young Stan Lee, and this, manually bashed out on my mum’s typewriter, is my version of Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins. It’s meant to say ‘RAMBLINGS,’ but is misspelled, and ‘PSYCHADELIC‘ is not only spelled wrong, but differently than it is on the cover, though I did hand-correct the typing error of ‘bonUS‘.

It’s pleasing that I was looking to offend even at an early age, anticipating complaints from those “budding Mary Whitehouses” who’d be fanning themselves into a faint at such subversive content. Presumably ACE IN THE HOLE would differentiate feedback from all the other fan-mail I was getting as a ten-year-old. Reader, we did not receive any letters, possibly because I signed off with:

SEE YA (but I wouldn’t wanna be ya!)” Yeah, readers (who consist of my elderly grandmother and other family members), you fuckin’ stink! Go dine on my farts, losers!

Page 02

Alright, here we go. Right off the bat, the title of the story is spelled wrong. But what a hip guy, leaning against the frame all casual. You can tell he sits on chairs like A.C. Slater. The literal first line is a rip-off of James Bond’s catchphrase, while “are you sitting comfortably?” is just as original.

But hello; what’s going on here?

Page 02b.jpg

There’s all of an inch between the belt and bulge. Was he born without a pubic bone? Dick and balls sat directly below his navel?

The lettering at the top is super wonky, but actually an improvement on my current handwriting. And observe how big I’m thinking; the first Fred Ace story in the history of the galaxy! If Martians tell you they’ve seen one, they lyin’.

Page 03

As an origin story, I could really let my imagination fly. Bitten by a radioactive Fred? Hit by a dump-truck filled with chemicals? Nope — answering an ad in the paper. “MINIMAL DANGER,” eh? We’ll see. Grafton is clearly intended to be a big, evil corporation; my Oscorp, Tyrell Corporation, or Amazon.

Like Rob Liefeld, I couldn’t really draw feet, but I also couldn’t draw bodies. What’s going on here?

Page 03b

Oh, just some random legs, come to make a bit of extra cash. Though it’s not particularly clear, the guy at the front of the line is the future Fred Ace. It’s an interesting mix in that queue; a lady with one boob, a bald guy with no legs, and everyone else with their faces half-missing because I clearly got bored. The flaring pig-nostrils are making me feel quite ill.

Page 04

By this point, my horrible handwriting needs to be transcribed.

Out of the 50, I was lucky enough to be chosen. After signing a contract taking all responsibility for accidents away from the company, needless to say, I was a tad concerned. I almost pulled out but then I saw the payment $10,000. Then they led me to a room where I was to be a guinea pig.

It’s just Captain America getting the Super Soldier Serum, isn’t it? Also, “a tad.” Is he a superhero, or the Conservative candidate in a local by-election?

They strapped me into this strange contraption.”

Again, what’s going on with his groin? It looks like a bad ‘sawing someone in half’ trick with a pair of false legs. Speaking of groins.

Page 04b

Trivia fans take note that his real name is Frederick Ashton.

Page 05

Then he flicked the switch*. I was bombarded with radioactivity.”

(*at least I hope that’s what it says, but judging by the previous panel…)

Then I blacked out.”

Colouring that little box must’ve been the most time-consuming part of the entire comic.

Then apparently, I lapsed into a 7 week coma. Obviously I don’t remember this**. 6 weeks and 5 days after the experiment… I began to come round.

(**thanks for clearing that up)

It’s not very heroic, rounding it up to 7 weeks to make it sound worse than it was. In the “PAIN… PAIN!” section, I think I’ve mistaken ‘a harrowing depiction of agony’ with a dog dragging its itchy arse across a carpet. And when he’s in a coma, what’s that other hand doing under the sheets? Without context, that panel could be a man fiddling with himself while he kisses a big snake.

Page 06

Apx 2 weeks after I awoke, they sent me home without telling me what the experiment was about. While I was in a coma, Grafton burned down.”

That’s convenient. I wonder what’s in the redacted box of text? Though judging from the handwriting, Fred wasn’t the only one who’d just woken from a coma. From an artistic standpoint, the ‘waking’ section is my favourite, though honestly, the fucked up wobbly doctor is about my usual standard for drawing faces.

Later, a strange power began to manifest itself. If I yelled a certain note, I could make people see their worst nightmares, then they would black out.”

Great power. Not just shouting like Banshee from the X-Men, but specifically ‘a certain note’. He’ll be stood there all Mariah Carey, with one finger in his ear, blowing into a pitch pipe, while the bank robbers escape, because he hit an E-flat minor instead of E-flat major. Also, if he’s making people see their worst fears, I guess he’s terrified of snakes? Or is that just a random snake that happens to be there, watching him practise his superpower? The same snake he was getting off with at the hospital? Fred Snakefucker, more like.

Page 07

I decided to use my powers for good causes and donned a mask to become the costumed crime fighter Fred Ace.”

I was a huge fan of the Marvel encyclopedias that listed characters’ stats, like height, weight, and how much they could bench press, with cut-out blueprints of all the headquarters and vehicles. This was my attempt at the same thing, using my obvious knowledge of Asian culture. Yes, the old “Chinese ying-yang symbol.” It’s good the belt is “very strong.” Incidentally, everyone in my comics had those same shoes; steel bricks with laces scribbled on the front.

Page 08

Another tough night on the streets, wrapping his balls around hoodlum’s necks. I don’t know what Chang-Qui translates to, presumably something like “you’re cancelled, you racist.” Where’s a guy who was doing shady medical experiments out of the newspaper getting the money for all those boomerang-diamonds? I’m presuming he never got his $10,000 after Grafton burned down.

Page 09

I’m also a black belt in both judo and karate making me a force to reken with.”

Yeah, I’m shitting myself.

Page 09b

That final panel though. Fucking hell, calm down, mate. “That’s my story, now GET OUT!” He’s got the posture of a cop interrogating a nonce. Though the comic was in black and white for reasons of photocopying, the character had been around for years in full-colour drawings. Fred’s costume was light blue, with orange boots and orange stripes on top of the mask.

At this stage, proceedings hand over to four pages of my cousin’s story, The Bionic Boxer. I won’t reproduce it in full, but you get the idea from these snippets of panels.

Page 10

Page 10b

Incredibly, I hadn’t landed any advertisers, so had to fill the back page with something else.

Page 11

Double plus! I knew I had them hooked by this point. I think I used more unironic exclamation marks in this single issue than I have in the last 20 years combined. What most strikes me is how achingly “all boys of the era” my attitude is. “See ya in 30!” It’s the classic late 80’s-early 90’s kid who thinks he’s cool, wearing a pair of neon bermuda shorts as I scribbled, nailing that last exclamation mark and sliding a pair of fake £2 ray-bans from the market down from my forehead. Eat my willy, dudes!

Sadly, the second issue is lost. As teased, it was the origin story of Sgt Blaster. Set to be Ace’s main nemesis, Blaster was a Sgt Slaughter drill instructor type with a Hitler haircut, whose origin involved beasting recruits with push-ups until they died. To further my pretensions of being the next Stan Lee, I glued the photo from my swimming centre membership onto the editor’s page before photocopying. Issue #2 sold poorly, that’s to say, not at all. You can only get away with milking your family once, and that was the end of Fred Ace. That is, until Netflix pick it up for the inevitable adaptation, and I get to ride out the rest of my life making cameos in the Psychedelic Cheese Dip Cinematic Universe, and judging cosplay contests where nerds with no pelvis make out with a snake.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi.

~ by Stuart on October 4, 2019.

One Response to “I Was The Stan Lee of Sussex – Reappraising Fred Ace #1”

  1. This is unrelated, but do you hate people who use the phrase “Fair play” (or variations such as “Fair play, lad” or “Fair play, son”) in everyday interactions? Especially if it’s accompanied by some light, football-esque clapping.

    Dickhead: “I went to the bar to buy a drink. The fella told me how much cost. I paid him the money, and he handed me the drink. Score!”
    Dickhead’s mate: “Fair play, lad.” *clapping*

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