Tuesday, 12 August 2008
British Comics (part one)
Of all the countries that are always associated with comic book creativity, Japan, France, America and the UK. It is the UK that always comes bottom of that particular international class.
In Japan, where vast amounts of comics are both purchased and read, it is a highly regarded and much loved industry. In point of fact Japan leads the world in comic (manga) production spending an unblievable 600 billion yen a year on the medium.
In France it is elevated, as all things mildly creative are in France, to a much respected art form. Creators of comics in France are treated with the same kind of respect and awe that film directors or authors of literature are.
In America, the world's second biggest producers of comic's and possibly the most influential, it is seen as being a failing, but still mildly entertaining, children's passtime with a larger market for the older comic book reader who reads the stuff out of a moist eyed nostalgia.
Then there is the UK where children rarely read the stuff created here, with the possible exception of 2000AD, and adults simply laugh at, or ridicule any other adult that they see, who shows a mild interest in comic books, as being either mentally retarded or just plain stupid. After all, we in Britain know that comic's are for kids don't we?
Conversely to the opinion's expressed by most adults, and a great many young adults, we Brit's are bloody great at comic production just take at look at the name's of all the great writer's and artist's the American's have nicked off of us.
Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Steve Dillon, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Brian Bolland, Alan Grant, Jamie Delano, Steve Moore, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, Eddy Campbell, Alan Davis...and all the others that I either cannot remember or, to tell the truth, find room to fit in here.
We are bloody brilliant at making comic's and not just in modern times either. We have been doing it for years, centuries even.
Depending upon how you want to present facts, Britain can lay claim to publishing the first "comic" way back in 1796. The title of the publication was The Comick Magazine. In truth it wasn't a comic proper but a wholly text magazine that featured the wonderful illustrations of the legendary William Hogarth. So lets start again. What was Britain's, and therefore the worlds first comic?
Answer . . .
Funny Folks. 1874.
Saturday 12th December 1874 to be precise. It was to become the groundbreaking future shaping comic book that would go on to lay the foundations for the next 100 years of British comic publications. It ran a 50/50 ratio of text and pictures and kept a constant price tag of one penny for many years. Without Funny Folks it is doubtful that we would ever have had either a Beano or a Dandy. Funny Folks lasted for twenty years.
Ally Sloper was published on Friday 3rd May 1884 although he had first appeared in the weekly magazine Judy, which was a rival imitation of the world reknown Punch. With a bald head and a huge rotting potato for a nose and a uncanny resembalance to Charles Dickens Mister Micawber. He was the worlds first comic book strip hero and lasted for a remarkable 56 years. From 1884 until 1923. No mean feat.
Comic Cuts, now there's a name to conjour with. Straight out of myth and legend with a reputation bigger than its illustrious past.
'Born' in 1890, the 17th of May to be precise, Comic Cuts was a comic that featured equal amounts of text and pictures and selling for one halfpenny it came in at half the price of other comics. Initially it 'borrowed' artwork from other comics but then went onto employ professional artists. It lasted from 1890 until 1954 with its heyday being somewhere in the 1930's. A magnificent acheivement.
But it wasn't Comic Cuts, great though it was, that would set the trend for future British comics. That tremendous accolade was reserved for its younger sibling, Illustrated Chips which began its publishing life on 16th May 1896 (is there something about the month of May?) and it went on to become quite possibly the most influential of all British comics. Setting a style of 'funnies' that would be copied from then until now and has to include The Dandy, The Beano and a host of others. The foundation stone of Chips was solid humour mixed with a great cast of characters that included Weary Willy and tired Tim. The major creative talent of Chips was one Tom Browne (no, not THAT Tom Brown) and with his wicked eye and stylish pen he wrote, drew and created the future history. Just take a look at Tom's artwork and then take a peak at Billy Bunter and spot the similarities.
Chips run took it from 1896 up until 1956 and in its wake came The Beano, The Dandy, Beezer, The Topper and a sense of comic cartoon fun that can only be described as the best of British.
part two will follow shortly.
all words and art are copyright © of C.J. Duffy.