A SHORT HISTORY OF WOKKER by A. EARNSHAW
First of all let it be known our wheeled Hero is not my own exclusive creature. Rather, he is the outcome of a fruitful collaboration I enjoyed some thirty years ago with my oldest friend, Eric Thacker.
Yes, Wokker is quite old. He first trundled to life, so to speak, from Eric's pen during the year 1966.
Eric, at that time a Methodist Minister, was living on the outskirts of Rotherham in South Yorkshire. I lived in Leeds and in those days worked part-time at the old Bradford Regional College of Art.
For something to do we engaged ourselves in an ongoing correspondence; poems, jottings, drawings, scraps of information both useful and useless, gossip and so forth. All of it in order to ward off deadly boredom and encourage life giving imagination to fructify and infuse our brains.
At this point I feel obliged to explain that Eric and I are friends from olden times, we first met in Leeds where both of us then lived, the year must have been 1940, or was it 1941 when I was sixteen and he a year older.
Our coming together was brought about through a mutual enthusiasm for Jazz, the music of Ellington, the Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens, Bessie Smith and wonderful, lonely Jimmy Yancey.
Soon an interest in poetry and literature developed, Eric became especially enamoured of New Apocalypse; me, I wanted to know all I could about something I had had hints of, something that promised marvellous things, namely Surrealism. (Then at its nadir.)
But enough of that. Let me get back to Wokker.
As I report above, the first images came from Eric's pen. A long, thin, ill nourished figure he was, with thin, black legs, spoked wheels and a head with a crest atop: at that time wokker was quite deaf â€¦ he had no ears.
His demeanor, as I recall, pompous and pontificatory, his speech verbose and finger wagging. (HA HA, ho fingers to wag.)
At that point I joined the fun. Indeed I do believe it was I who gave WOK two ears and WOODEN LEGS and WOODEN WHEELS.
(I once asked Eric, "What keeps Wokker's legs attached to his body and his wheels attached to his legs?"
He replied, 'You've heard of animal magic, well then, what's wrong with bird magic.
There was no need for anything more to be said.
And then, lo, Public Acclaim came our heroes way. Let me explain further: by that time I was in correspondence with George Melly who, in the mid-sixties, had bought one of my early watercolours and from then on was 'on my side'. Through letters he knew of my friendship with Eric and of the outlandish adventures of our wheeled bird.
And so in 1970, by good fortune, the ICA proposed to mount an exhibition devoted to 'Comics' (strips, that is) which led through George's good offices to the organizer inviting us to show examples of our as yet unpublished strip. Needless to say in due time we did just that, as I remember some twenty unframed were thumb-tacked to a screen.
This led to things happening.
Then the Assistant Features Editor of none other than The Times Lit. Supp. Saw the exhibition and our Hero and reported his find to his boss who, in his own good time looked and decided to dislike what he saw.
But all was not lost.
By now the Features Editor of The Times Education Supp. (just down the corridor?) had taken a look and, yes, WOK had made him laugh.
It followed that for a whole year, from October 1972 our brain child had a home.
Alas, his halcyon days spent on the back page of that August newspaper were not to last. As I report above, it all came to an end in 1972.
It was at that point that Eric lost interest. "Does poor WOK have a future?"I remember asking him.
Forthwith came his answer, "He's a dead duck".
WOKKER BLINKED HIS SHARK'S TEETH EYES, TWITCHED HIS KANGAROO'S EARS AND CLENCED HIS NOBLE BEAK.
In the late seventies, or was it in the early eighties, my good pal Jeff Nuttall and his gang of wayward associates published the irregular "Knuckleduster Funnies" from their then headquarters at Todmorden, Lancs.
This gave our Hero his chance to appear once more before his eagerly waiting public; indeed twenty more times.
Alas, after only four issues the paper folded, as papers do.
Our hero rolled down a slope for a hundred miles to the sea and oblivion.
With the passage of time the late eighties came round. It was then that another of my friends, Ian Breakwell recommended WOK to Steve Caplin who had plans afoot to embark on a bold publishing venture namely THE TRUTH, a monthly 'comedy magazine".
His venture lasted one year with our wingless bird showing the spin of his wheels in every issue. And then it folded as papers do.
Our Hero rolled down a slope for two hundred miles to the sea and oblivion.
To complete this little history I feel obliged to mention that in the year 1974 I took up my brushes and painted a portrait of our Hero; Title: WOKKER'S EYESIGHT FAILS WHILE HE IS GUARDING A FACTORY ON A TRAY. Medium: Watercolour. Measurements: 30 x 21 inches. Exhibited: Cartwight Hall, Bradford, 1974.
An that is not all. In the year 1988 yet another of my good friends, Doug Binder of Dean Clough Gallery, Halifax, declared he wanted to mount "Something different" on the walls. The end result was a grand exhibition of Wokker Strips, about thirty or more, both published and unpublished, gleaming and shiny in splendid frames. Some got sold, even!
Finally it has to be made clear that WOK has nothing to do with Chinese Cuisine.
The truth is the name came from a very early poem from Eric's pen in which among other things he tried to reproduce the sound of rim-shots made by a drummer.
WOK WOK WOK WOK
PS WOKKER'S HISTORY CONTINUES by G. EARNSHAW
Until 2001 when sadly Tony died , we sent WOKKER CHRISTMAS CARD every year to all our friends. Wokker was usually upsetting snowmen or sitting under a lamp post drunk.
Wokker also appeared in The Whistler a magazine produced by the Chelsea Arts Club. He gets around.
In 2001 Dave Brunskill animated our Hero and just before Tony died he came to the hospital and we saw Wokker dance and wink for the first time.
All went quiet with Wokker until my good friend Les Coleman, always a Wokker fan, suggested he make a set of 'Wokker postcards'. A splendid idea which Bill Binghan, another friend and fan financed. Our hero is making a comeback thanks to Les.
And now Wokker lives again on www.anthonyearnshaw.com where visitors can amuse themselves with our Hero's antics.
- Roger Sabin gave a talk Wokker: Notes on a Surrealist Comic strip, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 22 January 2011