(Please note this is a work in progress. There are many Jonah strips I haven’t read).
Originally published in The Beano children’s comic published by D.C. Thomson, between 1958 and 1962, March 15th 1958 (no. 817) to (no. 1090) 8th June 1963.
Strips reprinted in The Hornet comic. Series starts prior to issue 401 and finishes after issue 622. Note - not every Hornet comic featured a Jonah episode. For further information please refer to the Hornet Index.
Please note all issue numbers below refer to The Hornet
Written by Walter Fearn and drawn by Ken Reid.
This one page humorous strip tells of the adventures of a gormless idiot, Jonah, a lad who is keen to be a sailor. The only problem being is that he only has to set foot on any ship or boat (and they don’t have to be floating on water either), for it to sink. His presence on board a ship is enough to cause total panic amongst a ship’s crew. Lifeboats are launched in world record times, as crews abandon ships. Not only is ‘our hero’ a Jonah to all ships, that’s also his name.
Below is an example of one of the strips (from The Hornet issue 403), so that readers can get a flavour of the terrors that seamen face at sea! My apologies if your reading this at sea! (Note further strips appear below).
Jonah in sailors' superstition.
The story of Jonah as it appears in the Bible.
‘The fifth of the twelve books of the Minor Prophets, the Book of Jonah, unlike the other books in that collection, is not a collection of prophetic speeches but a short story. The author’s hero is the prophet, Jonah, the son of Amittai. The plot of the story may be summarized as follows: called by God to go east and summon the people of Nineveh to repentance, the prophet Jonah takes off in the opposite direction, booking passage at Joppa on the first ship bound westward to Tarshish. God, however, stirs up a great storm which threatens to capsize the boat. Unlike the sailors who pray to their various gods for deliverance, Jonah remains fast asleep.
Only after lots are cast to determine who is the cause of the storm does Jonah confess that his desertion of his prophetic commission has caused God to send the violent storm. The sailors at first attempt to save his life, but finally decide to avoid shipwreck by throwing Jonah into the sea, whereupon the storm immediately subsides. The sailors, hitherto followers of a variety of gods, are so impressed that they acknowledge the Lord, and offer sacrifices to him (chap. 1).The Lord now summons a large fish to swallow Jonah. After being in its belly for three days and three nights Jonah prays to the Lord (2:2-9) whereupon the fish spews him up onto dry land.’
This then, is our hero!
Background information about the strip.
‘Walter Fearne wrote the Jonah scripts, usually designed for around a dozen panels, which Reid would elaborate into as many as 30 panels in a single page to maximise the comedy.’ (Gravett on BBC Four website).
‘When questioned about this on one occasion Reid replied: “Ah, um, yes….well the way Fearne described a particular incident often set me off on a train of thought that had me creating additional panels. I admit that sometimes I simply got carried away with things. I’ve always had trouble just drawing a script as it is written. This usually means lots more work on my part, and that’s why I’m not rich. I simply like to take what has been sent to me and do the best possible job I can do with it, even if it is a lot more work.’ (See the issue 448 strip below).
Not only did D.C. Thomson not object to this enhancement of the scripts, but they acquiesced when Reid decided to carry over a story into the next week’s issue with one week’s adventure leading to another. This was unique for a humour strip at that time. For futher information about the strip and Reid http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/Interviews/KenReid/KenReidOverview.asp )
There is much to admire in the ‘Jonah strips,’ the humour is mainly visual (the characters faces, normal and confident one panel and hysterical in the next panel, once Jonah has been spotted), to the written jokes, usually the names of different characters introduced each week.
Stereotyping of different classes and types of people. For example in the strip below, a British Army officer, is portrayed as a typical upper class twit. But note also in the same panels are the expressions on the faces of the battle hardened troops, who have seen and done it all (although they have yet to meet Jonah). Very much a knowing acknowledgement that they know they’ve got an idiot as their leader. Episode from The Hornet issue 434.
Jonah started the strip with a normal sized neck, but later his expression was altered (so he looked more gormless) and his neck lengthened. See the image below.
Reid as mentioned above enjoyed drawing extra panels to give the strip more comedy. Possibly some of the extra panels he drew were for various characters that appeared in two or three panels only and then had no other impact on the story.
Reid occasionally tried to add ‘dark gallows humour’ to his strips, and sometimes coming into conflict with editors. Although, on occasions he looks as though he got a way with it.
Essentially, the same theme every week that, is Jonah appears on a ship and it sinks! Although this story was told with many variations. As with any long running strip though, our hero occasionally takes a back seat to allow others to take the limelight, thus telling a new story. A good example of this is the strip below, which is based on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1854 poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. (This was based on the disastrous British cavalry charge led by Lord Cardigan during the Crimean War, at the Battle of Balaclava, 25th October 1854, in Russia. Today Balaclava is a city in the Ukraine). Fearn very cleverly writes his own version of Tennyson’s poem. This appears in the second part of the story, from issue 492.
Another example, is the episode when Jonah teams up with Jock McShoggle Fae Auchentogle (I think there's a joke in there somewhere), a Scottish drunk, who also has the amazing ability to sink ships. This character appeared in two episodes.
Towards the end of the Jonah strip’s run Jinx was introduced, a relation to Jonah, who was just as accident prone.
This is one series that does genuinely make me laugh out loud, whether it is the ‘black humour’ or the visual expressions on the characters faces.
For further information about Fearn and Reid please visit http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/Interviews/KenReid/KenReidOverview.asp
Comics Uk (www.comicsuk.co.uk)
Heggie, Morris & Christopher Riches ed. The History of the Beano: The Story so far.- Scotland, Waverley Books Ltd, 2008.- ill.- col.- 352p.- (This large format hardback book tells the story of one of Britain’s much loved children’s comics, The Beano on its 70th Birthday.)
The following adventures are from issues 436, 448, 555 (It's comforting to know that Her Majesty's Royal Navy train all new recruits in the appropriate action to be taken in case Jonah should set foot on board one of Her Majesty's ships. But will the plans work if Jonah set's foot on the Royal Navy's training ship?) and 572.