British comics  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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world, The Dandy, The Beano and Comic Cuts are all British, although in modern times British comics have been largely superseded by American comic books and Japanese manga.


Originally the same size as a usual comic book in the United States (although lacking the glossy cover) the British comic has adopted a magazine size, with The Beano and The Dandy the last to adopt this size in the 1980s. Although generally referred to as a comic, it can also be referred to as a comic magazine, and has also been known historically as a comic paper. Some comics, such as Judge Dredd and other 2000 AD titles, have been published in a tabloid form.

Although Ally Sloper's Half Holiday (1884), the first comic published in Britain, aimed at an adult market, publishers quickly targeted a younger market, which has led to most publications being for children and created an association in the public's mind of comics as somewhat juvenile.

Popular titles within the UK have included The Beano, The Dandy, The Eagle, 2000 AD and Viz. Underground comics and "small press" titles have also been published within the United Kingdom, notably Oz and Escape Magazine.

The content of Action, another title aimed at children and launched in the mid 1970s, became the subject of discussion in the House of Commons. Although on a smaller scale than similar investigations in the United States, such concerns led to a moderation of content published within British comics. Such moderation was never formalized to the extent of a creation of any code, and nor was it particularly lasting.

The UK has also established a healthy market in the reprinting and repackaging of material, notably material originated within the United States. The lack of reliable supplies of American comic books led to a variety of black-and-white reprints, including Marvel's monster comics of the 1950s, Fawcett's Captain Marvel, and other characters such as Sheena, Mandrake the Magician, and the Phantom. Several reprint companies were involved in repackaging American material for the British market, notably the importer and distributor Thorpe & Porter.

Marvel Comics established a UK office in 1972. DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics also opened offices in the 1990s. The repackaging of European material has occurred less frequently, although the Tintin and Asterix serials have been successfully translated and repackaged in soft cover books.

At Christmas time, publishers repackage and commission material for comic annuals, printed and bound as hardcover A4-size books: Rupert supplies a famous example of the British comic annual. DC Thomson also repackage The Broons and Oor Wullie strips in softcover A4-size books for the holiday season.

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.Template:Fact 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 similar titles, 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.

Viz began life in 1979 as a fanzine style publication, before, in 1989, becoming the biggest selling magazine in the country. Based upon crude parodying of strips from The Dandy, amongst them Black Bag - the Faithful Border Bin Liner, a parody of The Dandy's Black Bob text story series about a Border Collie, the popularity of Viz inspired similar themed titles, amongst them Oink!, Smut, Poot! and Zit, 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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "British comics" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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