Comic heroes made Christmas an annual event

Christmas annuals were once as much a part of the festive celebration as turkey and the trimmings. Steve Snelling recalls Christmases past with comic immortals like Alf Tupper, Robot Archie and Lonely Larry.

Nostalgia's a funny thing. I like to think of it as a feelgood trick of the memory where all pain and discomfort is miraculously excised and the mind's-eye images are forever rose-tinted. And while it may not always be healthy to spend too much time living in the past, I doubt I'm alone in finding it strangely comforting to occasionally retreat down my own private memory lane.

Christmas is a case in point. That Christmas morning when as a young boy I tore open the festive wrapping to reveal the first-ever Victor Book for Boys, its action-packed cover featuring a fearsome-looking bunch of Tommy-gun wielding Commandos pouring from the battered bows of the destroyer Campbeltown moments after it had smashed into the dock gates of St Nazaire.

The last five decades have seen a revolution in children's toys, games and reading habits. Many of the things we once coveted, from Dinky cars to Britain's soldiers, have all but disappeared from the shelves of toy shops. But most notable of all the transformations, to a comic fan at least, has been the demise of the Christmas annual.

Once as much a part of the yuletide celebration as turkey and Christmas crackers, the annual, which could trace its origins back to Dickensian England and beyond, has all but disappeared in the form that I remember and cherish it.

Almost half a century ago when I was introduced to this great festive tradition I could have taken my pick from a veritable library of comic titles. The Dandy, The Beano, The Beezer, Buster, Topper, Valiant, Lion, Tiger, Eagle and, of course, The Victor, soon to be followed by the likes of The Hotspur, Hurricane, Whizzer and Chips.

If you think this reads like a lament, then you'd be right. For looking back, beyond the mind-numbing blur of computer games and explosion in hi-tech gadgetry, I count myself lucky to have grown up in an altogether different era, a much simpler, less cynical time which was, though I didn't appreciate it at the time, a golden age for comic annuals that would all too soon fade into history.

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Meet Steve's boyhood heroes in the EDP Sunday supplement in Saturday's bumper EDP.