You might have missed it, but this week sees the 40th birthday of a cult British superhero - with the muscles of 20 men but the brains of 20 mussels - though his big thing is bananas. Apart from comics, he has been a tv star, had his own stage play, promoted producers of a certain product and has a movie stuck in development hell. More endearing than Captain Britain ever was for sure.
In classic style, Little Eric undergoes a Billy Batson-style transformation into the mighty Bananaman when he eats a banana.
Bananaman made his debut inside the first issue of DC Thomson’s Nutty, dated February 16th, 1980. It was a slightly punkier companion to their other humour titles of the day such as The Beano, The Dandy, Topper and Beezer. On the superhero front, this new weekly also revived General Jumbo (Tusker if you read Captain Britain,or the wee psycho burning Jimmy’s troosers if you read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). My favourite was Scoopy, The Runaround Hound With a Nose for News, a George Bell strip that could be amusingly demented. It was also the birthplace of Cuddles, a malevolent baby who would later become part of a double act with Hoot’s Dimples. Still, it was Bananaman that caught on with readers, mostly drawn by John Geering.
In the strip, Eric Wimp has been rocketed to Earth from the Moon and makes his transformation when he scoffs a banana. Not the brightest spark in the box he still manages to thwart arch-enemies such as General Blight and Pineapple Man. Or even just make it through the day.
Over the years, Eric has also been Eric Allan, Little Eric, Eric Twinge and Eric Wenk Bannerman. Don’t ask me why? Actually one of those changes was telly stardom. The Goodies - Graham Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Bill Odie - voiced a cartoon series for BBC One which still lurks on YouTube. Bananaman actually beat Desperate Dan in this bid for the box.
The advent of the tv show also got him a spot outside the pages of DC Thomson. Bananaman featured in Beeb, a glossy last hurrah for Polystyle that was supposed to be a rival to ITV’s Look-In. DC Thomson had their own plans though, Bananaman got his own Annuals and Summer Specials while his parent comic, Nutty didn’t. Still the Eighties were weird days for British comics and the DC Thomson titles were not immune to the hatch-match-dispatch malarkey beloved by the competition. Nutty closed with issue 292 in 1985 and merged with The Dandy. Naturally Bananaman crossed over, his home of Nuttytown became Dandytown and he was also moonlighting as an ambassador for Ffyfe Bananas. He hung around Dandytown until 2012, when The Dandy closed and then jumped ship for The Beano. Guess where he lives now?