Obituaries: John K. Geering

Denis Gifford
Wednesday 18 August 1999 23:02

ERIC WIMP is a typical British schoolboy - D.C. Thomson comic kind. He first strolled on to the first colour back page of the first issue of Nutty on 16 February 1980, all spots, stubble, hairs and scruffy duffel coat. But by picture number three we find he is no short-trousered schoolkid after all. One bite of his banana and - Shoom! - he turns into big, blue-clad Bananaman.

"Faster than the speed of sound! Stronger than 20 men!" ("Phew!" comments a passer-by. "Stronger than 20lb of Gorgonzola, more like!") "He soars through the air like a bird! (Crump! Bloof-f!) - Er, an ostrich perhaps."

Having bashed down a big building by mistake, not knowing he has thus saved a demolition gang a week's work, Eric changes back into the typical British schoolboy. "Groan! Next time I am taking the bus!" he sighs, counting the stars spinning around his head.

So started the super-adventures of Bananaman, Britain's answer to Superman, Batman and even our own native Marvelman. A laughable answer, of course, and one that not only continues the chuckles to this day in the Dandy, despite the demise of Nutty, but was our first children's comic hero to transfer successfully to animated television cartoons.

Unfortunately this unique achievement did little for the brilliant cartoonist creator, who was not only forbidden to sign his weekly strips, but whose name was the only one not included in the roll-call of artists, animators, writers, and funny-voice folk credited at the end of every episode of these cartoons.

So let us correct this unforgivable sin right away: the artist who devised, scripted and drew Bananaman was John K. Geering, a name hitherto known only to readers of The Encyclopaedia of Comic Characters (1987).

John Keith Geering was born in 1941 in Warrington, Lancashire, to parents who had no artistic talent whatsoever, something fairly rare in cartoonists. He was educated at the Richard Fairclough School: he was always top at drawing but no good at anything else. His first job was as a junior clerk in a local solicitor's office at the age of 16. Here he met another young clerk, Barbara Finn, fell in love, got engaged at 18 and married her at 20. They had a daughter, Denise, and adopted two sons, Don (now deceased) and Janos.

Geering had an "outrageous streak" that consisted of an urge to perform in public. From appearing in sundry amateur theatricals he turned professional for a while, acting in a number of productions at Granada, his nearby independent television company. "I think they hired me for my leather jacket," he used to say, pointing to the thuggish roles he played in Coronation Street. He also played character parts in a television production of War and Peace.

For a time Geering managed a night-club in Warrington and, through a chance meeting with Ken Dodd, designed the original Doddy's Diddy Men, comical costumes for a troop of singing and dancing juveniles who then became a permanent part of Dodd's stage show.

Geering's move into comic strips came entirely through his wife, who wanted him to use his artistic talent. She bought a copy of every comic she could find in their local newsagents, and wrote off to all the publishers telling them what a talented husband she had. With each letter she enclosed some of his cartoons.

As chance would have it one package arrived on the desk of Ian Chisholm, a comic editor at D.C. Thomson of Dundee, publishers of Dandy, Beano and a dozen or more boys' and girls' comics at that time. Chisholm, soon to be known to the Geerings as "Chiz", made an appointment with Geering, and there was an immediate rapport between them.

The first characters Geering created were "Puss and Boots" for Sparky, back in 1969. "They fight like cat and dog" was the apt caption for this black tom cat and his tripehound rival. Geering's wit came out in the dialogue as well as in the funny drawings. "You puddin'-headed pooch!" bawled Puss, "You half-baked welly-boot," howled Boots. Geering was made for hyphens. "Have a taste of my super-Boots-is-it-a-bird-no-it's-a-moggie-knuckle-bruiser!" is a typical retort.

Asked to create some new characters for another new comic, Cracker (1975), Geering came up with "The Nutters": "Meet three crafty dodgers - the Nutty squirrel lodgers". Booted out of their park home for keeping coal in the bath, these scruffy squirrels found a new home in a dovecote put up by Porter Percy Potter, whom they addressed affectionately as "Old Fuzz Face".

Another new comic, Plug (1977), introduced another new Geering gang, "Antchester United", the insect football team with all the talent and even more legs. The manager was Mat Bugsy, the winger Stirling Moth, and a huge cast also included Gnat Lofthouse, Kevin Beatle and referee Samuel Peeps. Small wonder their manager committed insecticide!

The Snobbs and The Slobbs, a pair of rival families, moved into Nutty no 38 (1980). When Uncle Bob McSnobb from Inversockie came a-blowing of his bagpipes, he hooted, "Lang may yer socks reek!", an obvious gag on the Dundee-bound publishers. Apart from original characters Geering frequently helped out by taking on other regular characters when cartoonists went sick or on holiday. He drew "Pansy Potter the Strong Man's Daughter", "Dennis the Menace", "Lord Snooty and his Pals", "Keyhole Kate" and many other famous long-timers. All, of course, without ever being allowed to sign his work. Such was, and still is, the D.C. Thomson policy.

Despite this, Geering was a happy man, drawing and scripting as he more or less liked, as his widow recalled: "He drew many of the comic's most successful characters for 31 years, and enjoyed every minute of it."

John Keith Geering, cartoonist: born Warrington, Lancashire 9 March 1941; married 1961 Barbara Finn (one daughter, one adopted son, and one adopted son deceased); died Northwich, Cheshire 20 July 1999.

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