Of Elves and Ethics
(All About Ken Reid’s Fudge)

b y   C a r o l y n   H o r n

The Comics Journal, 1992

  ELFLAND LOOKED SHABBY as I stumbled through overgrown streets, looking for a small, forgotten house. Ah! There it was; but what a change since Ken Reid's day! Peeling paintwork—a sagging roof—and Fudge himself, in matching tatters, in the doorway. He was peering up at the heavy sky and muttering to himself. When I greeted him he gave me a puzzled scowl; but when I made it plain that I was a fan, he replaced it with the old cheeky smile. He invited me in, and seemed willing enough to talk.

He lowered his now portly figure into a rocking-chair, lit a pipe and began:

"I was born in 1938 to serve as stooge for a budgerigar called 'Budge'. Can you imagine? My name was designed simply to rhyme with the hero of 'The Adventures of Budge', a strip which Ken Reid wanted to have the Manchester Evening News run.

"Well it wasn't long before we kicked out that overblown bird, and the strip was mine. The News ran it. I saved Ken Reid's life, you know. Before he started chronicling my adventures, he'd been working behind a shop doing artwork for a photographer. When he started drawing me, he worked from home—and escaped the wartime bomb that blew up his old workshop!

"I'm a quiet sort of chap. Sensible. I don't suppose I'd have had all those adventures if it hadn't been for that squirt, Speck; he was always getting me into a mess. Before he turned up, I was having a peaceful time; I ambled through a series of nightly 3-picture stories. It was the editor who was responsible for change. He wanted Ken to convert the strip to a serial, so that people would keep buying the paper. Ken said he introduced Speck so that I'd have someone to talk to; all I know is, things began to happen."

I interrupted: "I thought that Ken said that the adventures grew out of everyday things—he'd be looking at something and it would trigger an idea?"

"Huh! Oh, sure. He'd be looking at a tank of tropical fish and whammee! The next thing I know, there Speck and I'd be, right in the thick of Bubbleville. The man had too much imagination, that was his trouble—just like Speck, still he was a brilliant illustrator; that's why I kept him on. But of course that very ability of his was my downfall."

Fudge sighed. He rocked gently, and sucked at his pipe.

"Yes?" I prompted.

"Yes, well we got to be quite popular. Hodder and Stoughton wanted me to do a book, not just a re-hash of the newspaper strip; The Adventures of Fudge was the result. It was really an illustrated text rather than a strip-book. But we started to do so well, that we began to produce books that were a pruned-down version of the newspaper adventures, published by the University of London Press.

"Eleven adventures we had together, until everything was suspended for the war. What a time that was. Ken went off to join the army, but at least he didn't make us join up." Fudge shuddered. "We had enough problems of our own, here, without joining the petty squabbles of the humans.

"Well, your war finished and Ken buckled down to the job of following my adventures again. For years we stuck together. Friendship—hah! What a hollow word. " He scowled out of the window again at the gathering clouds. I held my breath; would he tell me? He began again with a quiver in his voice:

"We kept him going, you know, during the hard times—-Speck and I. We brought him from obscurity to fame... " (I bit an exclamation about "Jonah" etc. at D C Thomson helping too) "... and I admit—we enjoyed the limelight too, after a while. But then, what happened? The first sizable offer from some cruddy comics publisher, and Whoosh! We couldn't see Ken for dust!"

"Er—he'd been unwell, hadn't he? Pressure of work..." My words tailed away as he turned the full force of a Mach-1 glare in my direction.

"He could have come to us, couldn't he? We had people in Elfland who could have made him well, given him three wishes, pots of gold under rainbows; all that kind of stuff. Didn't we? And why did he have to leave us right spang in the middle of that awful Grindle's Rock? We had a hell of a job getting out of the whole mess!"

I kept quiet. He gave me a final glare, and then went back to re-filling his pipe. When it was pulling well, he was back in his reminiscent mood.

"Ken used to say that Disney was his main influence, and that he modelled me on Mickey Mouse. Well, really! I don't speak with an American accent, and I certainly don't have those ears, now do I?"

"No, no," I cut in quickly. I looked at his tattered and stained skin-tight suit and shuddered. "Perhaps it was just the cap that you always wear?"

"Hmph," he said, plucked it off his bald head and threw it to the ground.

Somehow, I knew that the interview was over.

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