More specifically it began in the January of that year with dramatic footage of a storm-tossed galley seen on our old, black and white television. This was live-action footage - presumably taken from some old Hollywood blockbuster - but then, as I watched, it magically transformed into a comic strip image, though the noise of howling winds and crashing waves continued unabated.
This, I was informed by the voice of an excited announcer, was a scene taken from 'Wrath of the Gods' - a story to be found within the pages of a brand new comic called Boys' World which was "on sale at all good newsagents" even as he spoke. Though I vaguely remember some mention of other stories such as 'The Sea Ape' and 'What is Exhibit X?' there's no doubt that it was the sight of that singular, doomed vessel with the strange eyes painted on its prow that instantly captured my attention and left me desperate to know 'what happened next'.
Sure enough the very next day saw me scuttling home from Mr Norbury's paper shop with the comic in question clutched greedily in my hands. I was, however, surprised to discover that this was the second issue of Boys' World and not the first. Presumably any TV adverts for no.1 had been shown while I was otherwise engaged or the set was tuned to BBC: such are the vagaries of fate from which our destinies are woven.
The legendary First Issue - for over twenty years this remained a kind of personal 'Holy Grail' for me until I suddenly came across two copies within weeks of each other (of course, this was long before the world wide web and eBay!)
In other respects, however, Boys' World was very different from most comics then being published. For one thing there were only four traditional comic strips inside, with the rest of the pages being devoted to educational features and text stories (a combination that had been successfully pioneered a year earlier by Fleetway's Look & Learn). In many ways it was a cross between a traditional boys' comic and a high quality magazine: an impression that was strengthened by the use of full bleed printing and painted covers.
Surprisingly this bold new venture didn't originate from within the ranks of Odhams' existing editorial staff; instead it was the brainchild of an inspirational American named Jim Kenna who'd only recently arrived on these shores looking for work. According to Michael Moorcock, who wrote many of Boys' World's early text features, Kenna was hired in the hope that an infusion of new blood would translate into commercial success. Even Robert Bartholomew - the more conventional editor of Odhams' venerable Eagle - concedes that Kenna's ambition was impressive, reminding him of Eagle's legendary founder Marcus Morris. For Moorcock he was a breath of fresh air amongst the rather 'dull and self-satisfied' types who were beginning to predominate within the industry. At one time he and Jim even came up with an audacious scheme "to offer a real B-52 as a prize in a competition, knowing no parent would allow their kid to have it in the back garden." As they expected this proposal was instantly squashed by the powers that be!
Along with Moorcock and his writing partner Barrington J. Bayley, Kenna assembled an impressive stable of freelance writers that included his friend and fellow American Harry Harrison, as well as a number of reliable industry veterans such as Tom Tully and Donne Avenell. Unfortunately comic strips were rarely credited in those days so the creative team behind 'Wrath of the Gods' - Boys' World's full-colour centrepiece - had to remain something of a mystery for the first few weeks.
And make no mistake - 'Wrath of the Gods' was the jewel in the crown of this new title! Just as those initial glimpses on the TV screen had captured my attention, the sight of my first full episode was enough to make me cancel my regular order for TV Comic and replace it there and then with Boys' World.
My introduction to the world of Arion the Greek
The men behind 'Wrath of the Gods' - Writer Willie Patterson and artist Ron Embleton
By contrast, writer Willie Patterson was mostly known for his collaboration with fellow Scot Sydney Jordan on the Daily Express's science fiction strip 'Jeff Hawke'. Unlike the workaholic perfectionist Embleton, whose steady path of self-improvement never faltered until his too-early death in 1988, Patterson's career blazed brilliantly for just a few short years before he was overtaken by a debilitating illness in the late 1960s that left him unable to work. Nevertheless, for a period of just over ten years he managed to craft some of the most original series that ever appeared in British comics - including such memorable tales as 'The Phantom Patrol' for Swift, 'The Guinea Pig' for Eagle and 'What is Exhibit X?' - also for Boys' World.
In spite of his aptitude for Science Fiction Patterson had an omnivorous mind that devoured Latin and Greek literature with as much enthusiasm as he studied Astronomy or Physics. As a result his scripts for 'Wrath of the Gods' captured the authentic 'feel' of Greek Mythology, even as he played fast and loose with the archeological facts. Thus, the whole series is structured as a classic quest in which each week's episode opens with a fresh wonder that the hero Arion has to overcome before he is sent on the next leg of his journey with a new instruction from the gods. And while Embleton later confessed to being unhappy with the historical inconsistencies that he had to negotiate, his ability to bring a sense of realism to the most fantastic scenes proved a perfect counterpoint to Patterson's soaring imagination.
One by one, Arion and his comrade Pollodor were confronted by legendary beings such as Charon the boatman, Circe, Cerberus, Medusa, and the terrifying Minotaur - and I gazed on each of these fabulous creatures with wide-eyed astonishment. Out of all of them, however, there were two that are still capable of sending a thrill down my spine some fifty years later.
The first was the imposing sight of Atlas, groaning in agony as he held the secret pillars of the sky on his shoulders - a burden that Arion himself had to share for a brief moment! In the sequence shown below it's possible to see the thrilling way in which the final panels of one week's episode would invariably anticipate the next week's dramatic opening.
In the event, Arion and his shipmates were forced to take their leave of Rhodes with undue haste, which led to a desperate race against time as the galley's oarsmen strained their muscles in a futile attempt to clear the looming giant before its engineers could unleash their terrible weapon: a gigantic bowl of burning oil capable of turning the harbour entrance into a wall of fire!
Boys' World no.24 marked a major change in the title as it reverted from the stylish magazine format to a traditional Eagle-style layout with white margins around every page. At roughly the same time Odhams, alarmed that Kenna's singular vision wasn't being matched by equally extraordinary sales, decided to replace him with the much less maverick figure of Bob Bartholomew, who went on to edit both Eagle and Boys' World until the two comics were finally merged together in late 1964.
Amongst Bartholomew's changes were the introduction of two science fiction strips: 'The Iron Man', about a crime-fighting robot in human disguise (drawn by Ron's younger brother Gerry), and 'Brett Million', about an interstellar adventurer whose initial outing was adapted from Harry Harrison's first 'Deathworld' novel. And as Frank Langford's florid artwork for the latter series was granted pride of place in the comic's centrespread this meant that 'Wrath of the Gods' was relegated to a single page on the back cover.
Zip) - especially since John Burns' attempt to follow Ron on 'Wulf the Briton' in the last few issues of TV Express had proved anything but successful. Nevertheless Burns had clearly improved considerably in the intervening period so that his first Arion pages, though rarely spectacular, provided an acceptable approximation of the look that Ron Embleton had established, and the 'Quest for the Nameless God' turned out to be a worthy successor to the initial series.
Then bit by bit something strange happened as John Burns' own style began to emerge with ever-increasing confidence; and, as if in recognition of his growing mastery, 'Wrath of the Gods' was restored to its old position on the centre pages in time for the beginning of a brand new quest as Arion set out to help his friend Klobbax in a search for the Weapons of Ajax.
Over time Burns developed a real talent for dynamic penmanship (very different from Ron Embleton's brushwork) as well as an idiosyncratic palette in which dirty greens, browns, blues and greys predominated, yet out of which sudden splashes of red, yellow, purple or shocking pink could startle the eye at any moment with all the force of a lightning bolt in an overcast sky. In a way this technique was well suited to tales in which the mundane reality of the mortal world was constantly juxtaposed against the timeless magic of the gods. What's more, there was a sense in which the loss of Embleton's jewel-like colours was matched by the direction of the storyline for, having confronted all the most famous marvels of Greek mythology, Arion's fourth and final quest sent him far beyond the Pillars of Heracles and the sparkling blue Mediterranean, through grim northern seas to the mysterious, mist-shrouded island of Britain.
And at that point the world came to an end...!
...Or at any rate Boys' World did (accompanied by the traditional announcement of 'Exciting News' for all readers!).
Fortunately Odhams allowed the storyline to continue for six more weeks in the pages of the combined Eagle & Boys' World where 'Wrath of the Gods' briefly rubbed shoulders with Frank Bellamy's 'Heros the Spartan'. Thanks to the intervention of the Greek Fates Arion and his comrades managed to escape from the Norns, allowing them to track down the Future-Stone in a Druid temple. No sooner did Arion hold the glittering jewel in his hands than he and his friends were transported instantly back to Greece and the throne room of Olympus.
All that remained was a procession of the mighty beings that Arion had contended with during the course of his four quests as each one in turn - from Atlas on his mountaintop to the Minotaur in his blood-soaked arena and Cerberus at the gates of Hell - saluted him one last time for his valour. Then, in the words of Zeus himself, Arion's tasks were finally over and the Wrath of the Gods was ended!