History of the British comic

A British comic is a periodical published in the United Kingdom that contains comic strips. It is generally referred to as a comic or a comic magazine, and historically as a comic paper.

British comics are usually comics anthologies which are typically aimed at children, and are published weekly, although some are also published on a fortnightly or monthly schedule. The top three longest-running comics in the world, "The Dandy", "The Beano" and "Comic Cuts" are all British, although in modern times British comics have been largely superseded by American comic books and Japanese manga.


British comics typically differ from the American comic book in a variety of respects. Although historically they shared the same format size, based on a sheet of imperial paper folded in half, British comics have moved away from this size, with "The Beano" and "The Dandy" the last to adopt a standard magazine size in the late 1980s. Until this point, the British comic was also usually printed on newsprint, with black or a dark red used as the dark colour and the four colour process used on the cover. "The Beano" and "The Dandy" both switched to an all colour format in 1993.

Although originally aimed at the semi-literate working class, the comic eventually came to be seen as childish, and hence was marketed towards children. In today's market in Britain comics intended for teenagers or adults are considered to be more or less stretching the medium beyond its primary audience.

Historically, stories were of one or two pages in length, although now last longer and continue over a number of issues and period of time.

Whilst some comics contain only strips, other publications have had a slightly different focus, providing readers with articles about, and photographs of, pop stars and television/film actors, plus more general articles about teenage life, whilst throwing in a few comic strips for good measure.

Since the 1950s, it has been traditional that the most popular comics have annuals, usually published just in time for Christmas, and summer special editions.

In British comics history, there are some extremely long-running publications such as "The Beano" and "The Dandy" published by D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, a newspaper company based in Dundee, Scotland. "The Dandy" began in 1937 and "The Beano" in 1938. They are both still going today. The "Boys' Own Paper" lasted from 1879 to 1967.

The intellectual span of British comics over the years has stretched all the way from the cheerfully moronic obscenities of "Viz" (adult) to the political awareness of "Crisis" (adolescent to adult) and the sound educational values of "Look and Learn" (children's).

There has also been a continuous tradition of black and white comics, published in a smaller page size format, many of them war titles like "Air Ace" inspiring youngsters with tales of the exploits of the army, navy and Royal Air Force mainly in the two world wars, also some romance titles and some westerns in this format.


19th century

In the 19th century, story papers, also known as "penny dreadfuls", served as entertainment for British children. They were closely-printed and full of serial stories which could run to hundreds of instalments if they were popular. To pad out a successful series, writers would insert quite extraneous material like the geography of the country the action was occurring in just so that the story would extend into more issues. Plagiarism was rife with magazines pirating competitors' successes under a few cosmetic name changes. Apart from action and historical stories, there was a fashion for horror and the supernatural with epics like Varney the Vampire running for years. Criminals like 'Spring-Heeled Jack', pirates, highwaymen (Dick Turpin) and detectives (eg Sexton Blake) dominated decades of the Victorian and early 20c. weeklies. (For a vividly written survey see ES Turner's seminal work Boys Will be Boys)

Comic strips began to emerge slowly. "Ally Sloper's Half Holiday", (1884), is reputed to be the first comic strip magazine to feature a recurring character, and the first British comic as would be recognised today. This strip cost one penny and was designed for adults. Ally, the recurring character, was a working class fellow who got up to various forms of mischief and often suffered for it.

In 1890 two more comic magazines debuted to the British public, "Comic Cuts" and "Illustrated Chips", both published by Amalgamated Press. These magazines notoriously republished British and American material, previously published in newspapers and magazine, without permission. The success of these comics was such that Amalgamated's owner Alfred Harmsworth was able to launch both "The Daily Mirror" and "The Daily Mail" newspapers on the profits.

20th century

Over the next thirty years or so, comic publishers saw the juvenile market as the most profitable, and thus geared their publications accordingly, so that by 1914 most comics were aimed at eight to twelve year olds

The period between the two wars is notable mainly for the publication of annuals by Amalgamated Press, and also the emergence of DC Thomson, launching both "The Beano" and "The Dandy" in the late 1930s, as previously noted. During the wars the Beano and Dandy thrived due to a ban on publishing new comics, this was because of a paper shortage.Fact|date=July 2008 It is these two titles, more than any other, that have come to define a comic in the British public's mind. Their successful mix of irreverence and slapstick led to many imitators, notably "Topper" and "Beezer". However the originators of this format have outlasted all rivals, and are still published today.

During the 1950s and 1960s the most popular comic magazine for older age-group boys was the "Eagle" published by Hulton Press. "The Eagle" was published in a more expensive format, and was a gravure-printed weekly. This format was one used originally by "Mickey Mouse Weekly" during the 1930s. "The Eagle's" success saw a number of comics launched in a similar format, "TV Century 21", "Look and Learn" and "TV Comic" being notable examples. Comics published in this format were known as "slicks". At the end of the 1960s these comics moved away from gravure printing, preferring offset litho for cost considerations due to decreasing readership.

However the boys adventure comic was still popular and titles such as "Valiant" and "Tiger" published by IPC saw new adventure heroes become stars, including "Roy of the Rovers" who would eventually gain his own title. Odhams Press was a company which mainly printed new material which was adventure orientated, though it also reprinted American Marvel Comics material in its Power Comics titles such as "Smash!" and "Fantastic".

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the underground comics movement inspired two new comics in Britain.: "Oz" and "Nasty Tales" were launched with the Underground premise of counter culture rebellion. "Oz" notably featured the character "Rupert the Bear" performing sexual acts. Both magazines were tried at the Old Bailey under the Obscene Publications Act because of their content. The "Oz" defendants were convicted, although the conviction overturned on appeal. The "Nasty Tales" defendants were cautioned. However, both these comics ceased publication soon after their trials, as much due to the social changes at the end of the counter culture as any effect of the court cases.

In the 1970s, few comics in the "slick" format were launched, "Countdown" was one, a publication similar in content to "TV 21" and "TV Comic". "Vulcan", a reprint title, was another. Girl's titles that were launched in the "slick" format in the 1960s, continued in that format. Others changed, such as "Diana" and "Judy" which continued into the 1970s as slicks. They found themselves competing with titles such as "Boyfriend" and "Blue Jeans", which had changed content and now featured mainly product related articles and photo-strips.

In the 1970s, comics became more action oriented. The first such title to be launched was "Warlord", in 1974. Published by DC Thomson, it proved to be a success, and led to its then rival comics publisher IPC Magazines Ltd producing "Battle Picture Weekly", a comic noted to be grimmer in style than its competitor. "Battle's" success led to IPC launching another, similarly styled title, "Action". "Action" became a success, but also became controversial due to its content. Complaints about the comic's tone eventually led to questions being asked in the House of Commons. Whilst an extremely popular title, its publishers IPC decided nonetheless to change the content, neutering the book's appeal, and the title was eventually merged with "Battle".

"Action's" position of popularity was eventually taken over by "2000 AD", launched in 1977. Created as a comic for older boys and girls, it also held appeal for teenage or even grown-up readers, and was again published by IPC. It was at this time that comics began to source artists from Spain, mainly for financial considerations. This trend was initially confined to the slicks, but continued through to the launch of "2000AD". Carlos Ezquerra is the most notable Spanish artist to have worked in British comics, having worked on both "Battle" and "2000 AD", and credited with the creation of the look of Judge Dredd. "Judge Dredd" and other "2000 AD" titles have been published in a tabloid form known as a "programme", or "prog" for short.

In 1972, Marvel set up a publishing arm in the UK, Marvel UK, that mixed reprinted strips with new material. "The Daredevils" and "Captain Britain" are the two most notable names, although the licensed material proved to be the more successful. The "Star Wars" magazine lasted into the late 1980s, although it changed its name in line with the latest movie release.

In 1982 "The Eagle" was relaunched, this time including photo-strips, but still with Dan Dare as the lead story. The comic moved him from the front page to the centre pages to allow a more magazine styled cover.

Dez Skinn also launched "Warrior", possibly the most notable comic of the period, as it contained both the "Marvelman" and "V for Vendetta" strips, by Alan Moore. "Warrior" was a sort of British equivalent of "Heavy Metal" magazine. Marvelman was a Captain Marvel clone that Skinn acquired, although the legality of that acquisition has been questioned. In Moore's hands, the strip became an "adult" style superhero, and was later reprinted, with the story continued, in an American full-colour comic, with the name changed from "Marvelman" to "Miracleman" to avoid any lawsuits that Marvel Comics may have considered.

Adult comics also witnessed a slight resurgence first with "psst!", an attempt to market a French style monthly bande dessinée, and then with "Escape Magazine", published by Paul Gravett, former "psst!" promotions man. "Escape" is the other notable comic from this period, featuring early work from Eddie Campbell and Paul Grist, amongst others. Neither comic managed to survive the vagaries of the comics market, "Warrior" beset by copyright issues and Escape by lack of publisher interest. During this period a number of smaller publishers were formed to provide inventive publications appealing to niche markets. Congress Press was one of these companies, providing titles like Birthrite, Heaven & Hell and a graphic novel Spookhouse.

Most titles were eventually merged into each other through the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the popularity of comics waned. Although new titles were launched in this period, none seemed to find any sustainable audience. Notable comics from this period include "Viz", "Deadline", "Toxic!", "Crisis" and "Revolver".

", although they failed to achieve "Viz"' longevity and have subsequently folded. Whilst "Viz" no longer sells as well as it did at the height of its popularity, it is still one of the United Kingdom's top selling magazines.

"Deadline" was conceived by Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins, and mixed original strips with reprints of U.S. strips, notably "Love & Rockets" and articles and interviews on the British independent music scene of the time. Tank Girl was the most notable strip. "Crisis" was published by Fleetway Publications, the company formed from IPC's comics holdings, and then owned by Robert Maxwell. The comic was aimed at readers who had outgrown "2000 AD". It featured first works by Garth Ennis and Sean Phillips amongst others.

21st century

Since the year 2000, the British market appears to have arrested its slow decline. However, there is no sign of any great growth in circulation for the few remaining titles, and certainly no sign of any new launches from mainstream publishers into the comics arena. [ [http://www.ninthart.com/display.php?article=950 Life on the Island] , Ninth Art, November 15, 2004] An ever-increasing number of small press and fanzine titles are being produced, such as "Solar Wind" or "FutureQuake", aided by the cheapness and increasingly professional appearance of desktop publishing programs. It is from this scene that the UK's new talents now tend to emerge (e.g. Al Ewing, Henry Flint or Simon Spurrier).

After they were purchased by Rebellion, both "2000 AD" and the "Judge Dredd Megazine" have seen rises in circulationFact|date=November 2007 and the release of more adaptations and trade paperbacks, including complete reprint collections of the entire runs of "Judge Dredd", "Strontium Dog" and "Nemesis the Warlock". Starting in 2006 the "Megazine" began a regular small press section [ [http://www.2000adonline.com/?zone=thrill&page=profiles&Comic=Megazine&choice=SMALL "Megazine" small press section] ] which usually features an article on a title by Matthew Badham or David Baillie and a small press story.

There have also been changes in comics market with a growth in home-grown graphic novels and manga.

While British companies and creators have helped create the market for collected volumes there have, with a few exceptions like Raymond Briggs, been very few British original graphic novels published. [http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/08/21/arts/gnovel.php More than words: Britain embraces the graphic novel] , "International Herald Tribune", August 22, 2007] Briggs himself has said "On the Continent, graphic novels have been as accepted as films or books for many years, but England has had a snobby attitude towards them. They've always been seen as something just for children". [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1646837,00.html Strip lit is joining the literary elite] , "The Observer", November 20, 2005] However, thanks to the strong sales for Briggs' "Ethel and Ernest", and "Jimmy Corrigan" winning "The Guardian"'s best first novel award, publishers have started expanding into this area. Random House UK's imprint Jonathan Cape has tripled its graphic novel output and Random House has also established Tanoshimi to publish manga. Other publishers have also been increasing their output, which, as well as producing original works like "Alice in Sunderland", have also been included adaptations of works of literature. There are a number of new publishers who are specifically targeting this area [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6647927.stm Shakespeare gets comic treatment] , BBC, May 11, 2007] , including Classical Comics [ [http://www.tes.co.uk/search/story/?story_id=2421734 Then lend the eye an easy aspect] , "Times Educational Supplement", August 17, 2007] [ [http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=135709 Clive Bryant on Classical Comics] , Newsarama, November 8, 2007] and Self Made Hero, the latter having an imprint focused on manga adaptations of the works of Shakespeare. [ [http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=134954 Self Made Hero, Shakespeare & Manga] , Newsarama, November 1, 2007]

This highlights another recent change, as there has been an increase in British original English-language manga. Self Made Hero's 'Manga Shakespeare' imprint draws on talent discovered in Tokyopop's UK/Irish version of Rising Stars of Manga, including members of the UK collective Sweatdrop Studios, [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cambridgeshire/content/articles/2007/01/26/manga_feature.shtml Manga Hamlet by The Bard?] , BBC Radio Cambs, March 9, 2007] who have also contributed to other British-based efforts like ILYA's "Mammoth Book of Best New Manga" and "MangaQuake".

"The DFC" launched at the end of May 2008 drawing together creators from the small press and manga, as well as well as figures from mainstream British comics and other fields, [http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/children/article3896701.ece Interview with David Fickling, saviour of the great British comic] , "The Times", May 10, 2008] including author Philip Pullman. [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/childrenandteens/story/0,,2282010,00.html Deep stuff] , "The Guardian", May 24, 2008]

The reprint market

etc. Several reprint companies were involved in repackaging American material for the British market, notably the importer and distributor Thorpe & Porter.

Thorpe & Porter published similar formatted titles under various names. They were also re-publishing Dell's "Four Color" series and "Classics Illustrated" in the UK. Their material also included some work never before published in the US. Thorpe & Porter published many black & white reprints of American comics in the 1950s. Thorpe & Porter/Stratos published a long running Kid Colt Outlaw series which contained b&w reprints from both Atlas and DC. They also published Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid in a smaller b&w format though these were usually the entire contents of various American issues reprinted.

Alan Class is another notable name in this market: his company Alan Class & Co. Ltd purchased L. Miller & Son's holdings in the early 1960s, and continued to produce black & white reprints until the late 1980s.

When Captain Marvel ceased publication in the United States because of a lawsuit, the British reprint company, L. Miller & Son, copied the entire Captain Marvel idea in every detail, and began publishing their own knock-off under the names Marvelman and Young Marvelman, taking advantage of different copyright laws. These clone versions continued for a few years and, as seen above, were revived years later in "Warrior". L. Miller also reprinted many many other American series including the early 1950s Eerie and Black Magic in b&w format. These usually contain the American stories which relate to the cover but also contain other additional gems toward the back of the comic in order to fill-up the 64 pages.

An oddity of the trans-atlantic comics trade is "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle". This female version of Tarzan (with an element of H. Rider Haggard's "She who must be obeyed" - She... Na!) was licensed from Will Eisner's Eisner-Iger studio for a British and Australasian tabloid, "Wags", in 1937. The success of this character led to the "Wags" artwork being repackaged for publication by Fiction House magazines in the United States, thus exporting the character back to her country of origin.

The reprint market really took off in the 1980s with Titan Books releasing collections of British material, as well as signing deals with DC Comics to release American comic books in the UK. Igor Goldkind was Titan's, and Forbidden Planet's, marketing consultant at the time and helped popularise the term "graphic novel" for the softcover trade paperbacks they were releasing, which generated a lot of attention from the mainstream press. [ [http://www.2000adreview.co.uk/features/interviews/2006/goldkind/igor-goldkind.shtml 2006 interview with Igor Goldkind] ]

As well as Marvel UK reprints, Panini Comics reprint many of Marvel's titles. These incldue "Ultimate Spider-Man" (originally holding two issues of either "Ultimate Spider-Man" or "Ultimate Marvel Team-Up", now existing as a double feature with "Ultimate X-Men") and also produce a Collector's Edition line of comics, featuring a cardboard cover, three stories and a letters page on the inside back cover. Titles printed include many Marvel comics, including Astonishing Spider-Man, Essential X-Men and Mighty World of Marvel which reprints a variety of Marvel Comics. They also printed one DC comic, "Batman Legends", reprinting various "Batman" adventures (e.g. two parts of a multi-title crossover and an issue of ")", though currently this title is published by Titan Magazines

Since 2005, a small selection of American translations of the most popular Japanese comics have been reprinted in the UK by major publishers such as Random House, through their Tanoshimi imprint, and the Orion Publishing Group. Simultaneously, the very small press Fanfare has published a few UK-exclusive English-language editions of alternative Japanese manga and French bande dessinée, both sublicenced from the Spanish publisher Ponent Mon.

Thorpe & Porter as distributor of new American comics in the UK

In 1959 Thorpe & Porter became the sole distributors of new Marvel comics which were printed on Marvel's American printing presses and shipped to the UK. For years the standard price of these Marvels was 9d, and inside the front cover with the indicia is a sentence mentioning Thorpe & Porter as sole distributors to the UK market. Thus it was the brand new American printed copies of Fantastic Four #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1 and countless other gems appeared in the UK when brand new.

Thorpe & Porter were eventually purchased by DC Comics, via their distributing arm, then known as IND., in 1964, going on to publish an official Superman/Batman reprint book, "DC Special".

In the 1950s and 1960s American comics often arrived in the UK as ballast on ships.

List of British comics

There have been hundreds of comics in Britain over the years, including:

* 2000 AD (1977-current)
* Action (1976-1977)
* Adventure (1921-1961)
* Air Ace Picture Library (1960-1970)
* Andy Capp (1957-current)
* Battle Picture Weekly (1975-1988)
* The Beano (1938-current)
* BeanoMAX (2007-current)
* Bear
* The Beezer (1956-1993)
* Bella
* The Big One (1964-1965)
* Birthrite (1989-1990)
* The Boy's Own Paper (1879-1967)
* Boys' World (1963-1964)
* Bullet (1976-1978)
* Bunty (1958-2001)
* Buster (1960-2000)
* Buster Classics (1996)
* Buzz (1973-1975)
* BVC (1995)
* The Chatterbox
* Cheeky (1977-1980)
* Classics from the Comics (1996-current)
* Comic Cuts (1890-1953)
* Commando Comics (1961-current)
* Cor!! (1970-1974)
* Countdown (1971-1972)
* Cracker (1975-1976)
* Crisis (1988-1991)
* The Dandy (1937-current)
* Deadline magazine (1988-1995)
* The DFC (2008-current)
* Dice Man (1986)
* The Eagle (1950-1969) and (1982-1994)
* Fantastic (1967-1968)
* Film Fun (1920-1962)
* Funny (1989-early 1990s)
* Fun Size Beano (1997-current)
* Fun Size Dandy (1997-current)
* The Gem (1907-1939)
* Girl (1951-1964) and (1981-1990)
* Giggle (1967-1968)
* Heven & Hell (1990)
* Hoot (1985-1986)
* Hornet (1963-1976)
* Hotspur (1933-1981)
* Illustrated Chips (1890-1953)
* Jackpot (1979-1982)
* Jack and Jill (1885-1887) and (1954-1985)
* Jackie (1964-1993)
* Jet (1971)
* Jinty (1974-1981)
* The Judge Dredd Megazine (1990-current)
* Judy
* Knockout (1939-1963) and (1971-1973)
* Krazy (1976-1978)
* Linzy & Charcol (2006)
* Lion (1952-1974)
* Look and Learn (1962-1982)
* The Magic Comic (1939-1941)
* The Magnet (1908-1940)
* Mandy (1967-1991)
* Mickey Mouse Weekly (1936-1955)
* Mirabelle (1956-1977)
* Misty (1978-1980)
* Monster Fun (1975-1976)
* Night Warrior (2005-current)
* Nipper (1987)
* Nutty (1980-1985)
* Oink! (1986-1988)
* Picture Politics (1894-1914)
* Picture Fun (1909-1920)
* Pippin (1966-1986)
* Plug (1977-1979)
* Pow! (1967-1968)
* Prehistoric Peeps (1890s)
* Puck (1904-1940)
* Radio Fun (1938-1961)
* Rainbow (1914-1956)
* Revolver (1990-1991)
* Robin (1953-1969)
* Romeo (1957-1974)
* Roy of the Rovers (1976-1993)
* School Fun (1983-1984)
* Scream! (1984)
* Sgt. Mike Battle (2001-current)
* Shiver and Shake (1973-1974)
* Smash! (1966-1971)
* Smut (1989-current)
* Sonic the Comic (1993-2002)
* Sparky (1965-1977)
* Spellbound (1976-1978)
* Spookhouse (1990)
* Starlord (1978)
* Star Wars (Weekly) (1978-1986)
* The Swift (1954-1963)
* Tammy
* Tank Girl
* Terrific (1967-1968)
* Thunder (1970-1971) and (to 1974 with Lion)
* Tiger (1954-1985 when merged into "The Eagle")
* Tiger Tim's Weekly (1920-1940)
* Tina (1967)
* The Topper (1953-1990) and (to 1993 with Beezer)
* Tornado (1978-1979)
* Toxic! (1991)
* Trixton (2005 - 2007)
* Tube Productions (2005 - Present)
* TV Action (1972-1973)
* TV Century 21 (1965-1971)
* TV Comic (1951-1984)
* Twinkle (1968-1999)
* Valentine (1957-1974)
* Valiant (1962-1976)
* Victor (1961-1992)
* Viz (1979-current)
* Vulcan (1975 to 1976)
* War Picture Library (1958-1984)
* Warlord (1974-1986)
* Wham! (1964-1968)
* Whizzer and Chips (1969-1990)
* Whoopee! (1974-1985)
* Wonder (1942-1953)
* Wow! (1982-1983)
* Zit (1991-2002)

ee also

Other relevant entries include:
*List of DC Thomson publications
*List of comic creators
*British small press comics
*The British Invasion of American comics, that took pace during the late eighties
*"Comics Britannia", BBC Four documentary series on the history of British comics presented by Jonathon Ross
*Welsh comics



*cite book | author=Perry, George; Aldridge, Alan | title=The Penguin Book Of Comics | publisher=Penguin | year=1989 reprint with introduction | id=ISBN 0-14-002802-1

*cite book | author=Sabin, Roger | title=Adult Comics An Introduction | publisher=Routledge | year=1993 | id=ISBN 0-415-04419-7

*cite book | author=Gravett, Paul | title=Great British Comics | publisher=Aurum Press | month=October | year=2006 | id=ISBN 1-84513-170-3

*cite book | author=Turner, Ernest Sackville | title=Boys Will Be Boys |publisher=Michael Joseph | year=1948, reprinted 1957 | id=ISBN 0-810-34091-7

External links

* [http://www.britishcomics.com/History/index.htm History of British Comics]
* [http://www.bl.uk/collections/comlist.html Select List of British Comics Held in the British Library Newspapers]
* [http://www.britishcomics.20m.com/HOME.htm A British comics fanpage]
* [http://www.comicsuk.co.uk Comics UK]
* [http://www.indiereview.co.uk IndieReview - UK Indie Comics News and Reviews]
* [http://blog.newsarama.com/2007/06/06/i-british-girls-comics/ I ♥ British girls’ comics] , Newsarama, June 6, 2007
* [http://contento.best.vwh.net/paper/0start.htm British Juvenile Story Papers and Pocket Libraries Index]
* [http://www.bookpalace.com/comicsgen.htm Comics Picture Gallery at bookpalace.com]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/comics/ BBC cult comics page]
* [http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/?p=1260 July 2006 interview about British comics] by Forbidden Planet with various leading lights, including Dez Skinn and others.
* [http://www.26pigs.com/comics.html 26Pigs.com Comic Library]
* [http://www.uniquecomiccollectables.com/ Unique Comic Collectables]

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