For the next few weeks I shall be doing the Sunday Suggestions a bit differently. I shall be promoting some of my favourite blogs for you all to enjoy. This week I shall be highlighting some of the best blogs about comics. I have been around the comic crowd for a while, so I should know good comic blogs when I see them.
Nigel Parkinson is the current artist for Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx in the Beano. He also has drawn countless other characters in both D.C Thomson and Fleetway publications. As Nigel has had years in the industry, his posts are always interesting and well informed. He often posts news and sneak peaks from the Beano and his two main characters, Dennis and Minnie as well as various posts about his convention appearances.
This blog is full of great information about British humour comics. Peter Gray has featured hundreds of different comics and strips on his blog with great features on artists and comics. His scanner must be pretty hard wearing as he seems to scan whole comics at a time. Peter also draws pictures of animals, so check them out too.
The Comic Archive does exactly what it says on the tin; it is an archive. The author, Bruce Laing, seems to know a lot about British comics despite living down under in Australia. Bruce aims to provide a comprehensive archive detailing info about each strip from every British humour comic. Like Peter, Bruce must have a very good scanner, as every fact and figure is backed up with scans of the respective comic or strip.
Lew Stringer has been around the comic circles for a long time, so his knowledge of the whole industry is used well on his blog. He posts about anything and everything from old comics and up-to-date news. Lew has been an artist for some very popular comics so it is great to hear the details behind them. He has an extensive collection of comics, so he often posts about some of his stash.
These are some great blogs that you should check out if you have any interest in British comics.
I Need You! I will hopefully do a 64 knock-out tournament where characters will be picked out at random (although bigger characters will be seeded) and go up against another character. There will be a large vote at the beginning where you will have to vote 32 times between the 64 characters, but after this it will get closer and closer to finding the nation’s favourite.
I am writing this post to ask for nominations of your favourite characters. I would like a vast spectrum of characters from the D.C Thomson titles to IPC and everything in between. They must be from a British publication.
Once I have received all of the nominations needed I will post here again to show you how to vote for your favourite. I hope this will give people some fun, and cause people to back their favourite character right to the end. If anyone would like to do the vote in conjunction with my blog I would be happy to oblige. Once I have 64 contenders I will hopefully get a national news site or something like that run the story and publicise it enough so that we get a real shot of a national vote.
You can nominate your favourite characters on the comicsuk forums here.
This is the last instalment of the comic industry posts. I hope you have enjoyed them.
Perhaps the worst decades for the industry were the ‘00s and ‘10s. Just after the highs of the millennium, the industry had a shock after Buster closed in 2000. IPC’s Goliath was beaten after merging with at least 20 other comics including Whizzer and Chips, Cor!!, and Radio Fun. Buster was IPC’s best rival to The Beano and Dandy, but ended up being mainly reprints during the last decade of its existence. It also suffered from a lack of readership towards the end of its tenure. One great touch in the last issue told the readers how many of their favourite stories ended, and also went on to reveal that under Buster’s cap he had a Dennis the Menace hairstyle, as a playful nod to their long time rivals.
The Beano and Dandy also lost many readers during this period. These losses were mainly down to the new ways of reading like e-readers, and the many distractions for children like video games and television. Due to the lack of readers, the longest running British comic, The Dandy, closed in 2012. Because the comic had few readers, it made economic sense to stop the comic before it operated on a loss. Another contributing factor was its revamp in 2008. Dandy Xtreme, an aim to modernise the comic by focussing around television programmes and video games, lost the comic many of its readers who used to read it as a child. Parents would also not buy the comic for their children, as it was completely different to how they knew it. Therefore, when the comic went back to humour strips the brand had been spoiled. The last issue was on its 75th birthday on December 4, 2012. This issue featured the 75 best strips of the comic, and because of the many older readers who picked up a copy, it became very hard to find in newsagents to buy. Back in the 1950s, the comic was consistently selling 2,000,000 copies a week, but by the end it only had 8,000 regular readers.
These few bad decades did have some triumphs. Some new comics came out during this era but they either had a low budget or were Beano and Dandy specials or tributes. There are only three main comics left now: The Beano, still going strong, Toxic, started in 1991 and later in 2002 with more comic strips than the average magazine, and the Phoenix, which contains mainly adventure stories that was started in 2012 by some of the best contemporary artists. Children’s magazines today are here today and gone tomorrow mainly because they follow the latest trends or fads. The magazines rarely have comic strips or cartoons, and would rather centre on celebrities, video games, or films in an attempt to modernise the format. For me a country without comics is very sad, as many children now will never be able to enjoy the laughs, comradery, and enjoyment that a simple comic can bring. Children will also miss out the great artwork and the gripping storylines. School playgrounds will never be the same without the questions, “Are you a Whizzer or a Chipite?” or “Did you read Dennis the Menace this week?” Without a market for new comics, the main publishers now have to bring out nostalgic comics for their older readers. Just last Christmas a The Beezer, The Topper, Whizzer and Chips, and Roy of the Rovers annual were published with the old style of strips.
The industry has not gone yet, though, and you can do your bit by reading and enjoying the comics out today.
The Phoenix – A Quality Weekly Story Paper – Buy Here
Toxic Magazine – More Comics than the Average Mag – Buy Here
The Beano – The World’s Longest Running Comic – Buy Here
By the ‘90s, computers, video games, and mobile phones were starting to find their market in the modern era. This meant comics also had to modernise. During this decade, it was technology and pop culture that prevailed. The Beano would have a guest appearance of a Radio 1 DJ, or Buster would give away Nintendo NES games. The comics were becoming more childish catering for a younger audience.
Many classics also were lost during this era; The Topper and The Beezer merged in 1990 but only lasted together until 1993 after 1,963 and 1809 issues respectively, and Whizzer and Chips ended in 1990 after 21 fun packed years.
This decade also saw the rise of political correctness. Dennis the Menace could no longer be “slippered”, racial stereotypes had to be taken out, and comic violence was a no go. Any older reader of the classics would have not recognised their beloved comics during the ‘90s.
Much like the ‘70s, the ‘80s were full of many comics that failed to sell. The two publishers brought out more comics into their line-ups that had disappeared less than ten years later. IPC brought out School Fun, Oink, and Nipper, while D.C. Thomson released Hoot and Nutty.
School Fun was the first comic that IPC created in this decade in 1983. This comic’s gimmick was that every strip was based around school. Obviously, most children thought they already had too much time taken up with school and the comic ended only 33 issues later in 1984. Oink, dubbed as the Viz for children, created in 1986, featured all the things you would expect from a comic centred on pigs: poo, wee, mud, gunk, and pimples. The comic often came into the spotlight because of the regular, controversial storylines for children. The comic, however bad it sounds, featured many accomplished artists that used it as a step up to the big time. The comic lasted 68 issues until it folded in 1988. Nipper was a comic made around half the size of the other comics on the shelves, hence the name “Nipper.” Unfortunately, because of its small size, it was often not seen on the shelves or easily stolen. This gimmick did not save it however, when just 16 issues in it ended in 1987, the same year it was launched in.
D.C. Thomson’s comics of this era fared only a bit better. Their first humour comic of this decade, Nutty, only lasted from 1980 to 1985. It did however bring one new character that many people would still know today– Bananaman. Bananaman was a super hero whose alter ego was a young boy named Eric. Whenever Eric ate a banana, he would transform into his superhero form. When the comic ended Bananaman went into The Dandy comic and stayed there until that eventually ended, at which point he moved to The Beano. The same year that Nutty ended D.C. Thomson brought out Hoot. Hoot was nothing special, but it turned out to be D.C. Thomson’s last ever humour comic. Therefore, when Hoot ended it also ended the influence of the comic powerhouse that was D.C. Thomson in the industry. With the old publisher’s waning, new publishers were attempting to take the new business. However, these comics were not of the same quality that IPC and D.C. Thomson had produced.
Two new comics from this decade prove my point. Triffik, created by Communications Innovations, set out to become the main rival to The Beano. Unfortunately, the artwork and story line could not live up to the hype and bowed out only 12 issues later. Bog Paper published by Marvel UK was one of many comics brought out by this publisher in this decade. As you can imagine the comic left a lot to be desired. Many comics decided, rather than be original, to be copycats of more popular comics. Triffik wanted to be The Beano and other comics wanted to be the Viz. These comics lacked the artwork needed to become successful, and thus gave the industry a bad name. All these comics saturated the markets, meaning readers had more choice, but the comics had less readers making them not last as long as the cherished classics.
The 1970s were marked with many short-lived comics that struggled to find a market once the decade had finished. These comics were often very good quality with great artwork and stories, but because of the squeeze on readership during this decade, their sales figures could not support them. Both main publishers brought out two comics each that did not see themselves on the shelves come the 1980s.
These comics were Cor!! and Cheeky Weekly created by IPC and D.C. Thomson created Cracker and Plug. Cor!! was started in 1970 and seemed to take many ideas from the D.C. Thomson comics. Tomboy, as you can imagine, was very similar to Minnie the Minx, Tricky Dicky was like Roger the Dodger, and The Gasworks Gang mirrored The Bash Street Kids all from The Beano. The comics did not always copy other characters and when they did not they created many memorable ones by themselves. Ivor Lott and Tony Broke, Jack Pott, and Chalky provided readers with great characters that you could only find in Cor!!. It was these characters that remained after Cor!! merged with Buster in 1974 after only 210 issues. One interesting thing to note is that IPC continued to create annuals for Cor!! until 1986! Cheeky Weekly, another comic by IPC, was a spin-off comic about Cheeky, a character from Krazy (another short-lived comic from this era). The premise of the comics was completely new to the readers. Cheeky, the comic’s host, lived the week out in the comic while meeting his friends along the way. Cheeky’s week was the back-story behind the comic with the strips cleverly woven in. Often during the week, Cheeky would bump into characters who would remind him of a story which appeared in strip form in the comic. He could also be found rummaging in his attic, revealing a reprint from an old IPC title asking the readers to ask their parents if they remembered it. For its time Cheeky was ahead of the curve, this is potentially why it only lasted from 1977 to 1980.
D.C. Thomson also had a hard time making comics stick during this decade. Cracker, another edition to D.C. Thomson’s humour line followed the same pattern as its predecessors, containing strips, reader’s pages, and puzzles. Although from the D.C. Thomson stable, this comic lacked original characters that did not take ideas from other popular strips. This comic lasting from 1975 to 1976, was the first of many short-lived D.C. Thomson comics. Plug, released a month before Cheeky Weekly also played on the one character comic idea. Plug was the gormless and ugly character from the Bash Street Kids. The strips in this comic were more original as they used it as a platform for more zany ideas, basing many of the strips around sports and music. The comic gained a reputation for itself when many stars featured in the comic, most notably John Wayne, died soon after their appearances, creating the “curse of Plug.” The comic cost 9p instead of the 5p charged by many of the other comics, making it almost twice the price. This contributed to a lack of sales that led to its closure in 1979. Both comics merged with The Beezer after they folded within 3 years of each other.
During this decade, IPC did have one success and it came in the form of Whoopee! which took the same format as many of the comics at the time. However, Whoopee! seemed to hit on a winning formula because it lasted for over ten years from 1974 to 1985. This comic had many popular characters including Smiler, Toy Boy, and the Bumpkin Billionaires. It merged with Whizzer and Chips who took many of the best Whoopee! characters.
Only two comics founded in this decade are still around today. These are 2000 A.D.. and Viz published by IPC and Dennis Publishing respectively. 2000 A.D.. is a sci-fi comic set in the year 2000, a far away year from when it was started in 1977. It was the first British comic to invade America and become just as acclaimed and recognisable as the D.C and Marvel comics. This success has led to many spin offs including a recent movie set around the main character, Judge Dredd. This comic broke the mold, refreshed the sci-fi genre, and became a cult classic. The Viz comic, started in 1979, brought another element to the industry – smut. The comic, proud of being rude, racist, sexist, and vulgar, influenced countless other comics to follow suit. The comic became a best seller and sold around 1.2 million copies at its peak, making it the third most bought publication in the UK at one time. This was the first comic to cater especially for adults and is still on sale today, 36 years later.
When the 1960s came, many comics had settled in and found a reliable reader base, because of this the comic stalwarts sold steadily throughout the decade. Now comics were seen as a staple for British children, and each child bought their favourite comic weekly. Comics were now coming into their own because of their new contemporary approaches, the artists began to find their own style, and the artwork became as popular as the storyline. The two main publishers brought out many new comic during this decade. IPC created their first real competitor to The Beano and Dandy in 1960. and named it Buster. Buster was an amalgamation of all they had learned from their previous comic ventures. Its title character, Buster, was originally billed as the son of Andy Capp, the star of his own strip in the Mirror. Andy Capp never alluded to Buster in his strip, while only a few cameos appeared of Andy Capp in Buster’s strip. Later on, to avoid any link with the unsavoury nature of some of the Andy Capp strips, Buster’s links to his father were cut and thus became a standalone character in his own comic. Buster comic, being a standout publication for IPC amongst its other less unsuccessful comics, became a “graveyard” for almost all the IPC comics that folded. Just in the ‘60s alone Buster merged with four other IPC comics including Radio Fun and Film Fun in 1961 and 1962 respectively. Often during a merger, the best characters from the deceased comic would join the bigger, more popular comics. Unless these characters were very special they would eventually stop appearing in the comic and all trace of the merged comic would disappear. Whenever a comic was to closed or merge, the ironic tag line read “Great News Inside,” which to most of the readers would signal the end of their favourite comic; this phrase has now become an “in joke” between collectors. Buster was the first comic launched by the newly merged IPC, and paved the way for many more IPC comics to come.
One of these comics was Whizzer and Chips. IPC brought out this title to add to their stable, and give Buster a sister comic. Whizzer and Chips launched in 1969, nine years after Buster, produced many memorable characters. IPC actually billed Whizzer and Chips as two comics in one; Whizzer, whose leader was Sid and his snake, and Chips, whose leader was Shiner. The two comics in one originally billed as companion comics, soon became rivals. Later on, the rivalry played out in the comics as well as between groups of children. Back in the 1970s, being either a Whizzer or a Chipite could cause cliques and gangs among the children. The comic would also play on this rivalry by having what they called “raiders.” These raiders would be a character from the opposite comic that hid in amongst the other comic’s strips. This provided children with an extra bit of fun once they had finished reading the comic. If you were wondering, I would call myself a Whizzer.
After the launch of Buster, and before Whizzer and Chips came out, D.C. Thomson put out their fare for the ‘60s. Sparky, launched in 1967, became their fifth humour comic. It contained the same zany and fun filled pages as its predecessors did. Sparky took many of the defunct characters from the early Beano and Dandy comics and refreshed them for the modern audience. Keyhole Kate, Hungry Horace, and Freddie the Fearless Fly from The Dandy and Pansy Potter, Hairy Dan, and Frosty McNab from The Beano had makeovers when they reappeared in the Sparky. Apart from these standout humour comics, IPC and D.C. Thomson also brought out many boys’ papers during this period. D.C. Thomson launched the Victor and Hornet in 1961 and 1963 respectively, while IPC brought out Valiant in 1962 and the five Power Comics, Wow!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic, and Terrific between 1967 and 1968. Sadly, with the success of the new humour comics coming onto the market, D.C. Thomson’s “Big Five” disappeared in this decade. The industry became humour only with a pinch of adventure offered by the boys’ papers. Text stories also lost popularity during this period. If children wanted a comic, they did not want to read stories as if they were from a book; they wanted action, jokes, and japery from the comic strips. The 60s were known as an era of psychedelic colour and the comics were no exception; the new comics brought out reflected the mood by adding more colour on the front cover as well as the content inside.
After the trials and tribulations of the comic industry during World War II, came a sales peak that is yet to be replicated. As per usual The Beano and The Dandy were on top of this booming market. During the 50s, The Beano and Dandy were selling over 2,000,000 copies per week each, and were well loved by most because of their morale boosting efforts during the war. By the mid-1950s, the paper shortages were over, giving publishers a chance to innovate and bring new comics to market again. The sales boom of the ‘50s can be put down to four main reasons. Firstly, after the atrocities and realism of the war, children needed a place to escape to, hence the fantasised worlds in the comics appealed. Secondly, they just wanted some relief after the war; a chance to sit, read, and laugh without fear of bombs or explosions. A third reason for the boom was down to the money available to spend on entertainment. During the war, money was tight and people could buy only what they needed, but after, more money was accessible and people could spend it on something they could enjoy. Also in the 50s, all the “baby boomers” were old enough to read comics, and because their parents knew them from their childhood they bought them for their children. Lastly, the rationing was ended in this decade making the common person more frivolous with their food and forms of entertainment. It was also during this period that publishers started making separate comics for boys and Girls.
Hulton Press, a publisher that eventually merged into Odham’s Press and then into IPC, brought out two comics that took the concept of “sister comics” to a new level. Hulton brought out the Eagle comic in 1950 and it’s literal “sister comic” Girl, in 1951. The reason I say they created a literal “sister comic” is that many brothers would buy the Eagle while their sisters would buy Girl. These two comics catered for everyone. The boys could enjoy the adventurous Eagle comic with stories based on space, the jungle, and the front line, while Girl was providing female heroes falling in love, having fun, or saving the day for the Girls. Fleetway also brought out two comics that were “just for boys.” As well as the usual sci-fi and adventure stories, these comics also had many strips based around popular sports and history. In this decade, D.C. Thomson brought out three noteworthy comics: The Topper, The Beezer, and Bunty. The Topper, started in 1953, was the first of a new line of comics brought out by D.C. Thomson to complement their two “big sellers” The Beano and Dandy. The Topper broke the D.C. Thomson mould, by reverting back to the tabloid size allowing readers to enjoy larger pages with more detail. The Beezer, The Topper’s sister comic, came out in 1956. Its contents were just as fun filled and seam busting as its D.C. Thomson stable mates. These two comics became partners much like The Beano and Dandy, and eventually merged before their demise. D.C Thomson also brought out a Girl’s comic around this time called Bunty as a direct competitor to Girl, Hulton Press’ offering. All the stories in the Bunty revolved around Girls and the things they liked at the time.
The comics that came out in the ‘50s also brought with them many well-known characters. Dan Dare, a space pilot, became a huge hit for the Eagle, while Roy of the Rovers enjoyed a lengthy career in the Tiger. The D.C. Thomson characters that came out in this decade also left us with a lasting impression. The ‘50s saw the beginning of Dennis the Menace, perhaps the most well-known British comic character ever. Dennis was of his time and has since been modernised to fit in with newer audiences. In his early stories, he would behave in a “menacing” way towards his parents, Walter the Softy, and his neighbours. Often at the end of the story he was seen bent over his father’s lap being belted with a slipper. In his later days, Dennis became more mischievous, and, with the political correctness, less violent. Dennis has stayed one of the greatest characters because he was able to adapt to the audiences of the day. As mentioned, the ‘50s brought about new girl comics as well as ones for everyone. Two popular characters, Beryl the Peril, from The Topper, and Minnie the Minx, from The Beano, took the idea of Dennis the Menace, changed it to a female character, and ran with it. After the great work of the women during World War 2 as land girls and air-raid wardens, they were seen as strong and heroic rather than just a housewife, so were portrayed more in comics. I believe the ‘50s can be summed up with two phrases, “girl power,” and “new favourites.” Due to all the different publishers, it may be slightly confusing for the reader to know which publisher published what, especially after many publishing mergers. D.C. Thomson are a separate company and have always had the same name and office since it started in 1905, however, Amalgamated Press’ history is slightly more confusing. Amalgamated Press was founded in 1901, but had created comics before this time under the name of Harmsworth. They had another name change in 1959 when they were bought by the Mirror group and renamed Fleetway Publications. In 1961, Fleetway bought Odhams who had many comics in its repertoire, as well as the recently acquired Eagle. In 1963, Fleetway merged with IPC. Today Egmont owns the rights for Amalgamated Press/IPC/Fleetway’s comics and characters.
World War II had an interesting effect on the comic industry in general. D.C. Thomson was forced to print The Dandy and Beano on alternate weeks due to paper shortages. These comics had fewer pages in them, but were still able to pack in all the fun from its pre-war days, as well as new characters that lampooned the Axis leaders. Because of all the propaganda The Beano and Dandy were supplying to the thousands of children reading them each week, the UK government waved the compulsory conscription to D.C. Thomson staff so they could carry on with their work. The Dandy strip, Addie and Hermy, poked at Adolf Hitler and Hermann Gӧring, while The Beano strip, Musso the Wop, ridiculed Benito Mussolini.
The regular characters also played their part: Korky the Cat joined the army, Desperate Dan used his super strength to weaken the Axis powers, and Lord Snooty utilized his riches to create new plans to foil the enemy. These characters helped the children on the day laugh at the enemy rather than be scared of them.
These war time comics were so popular they were often one of the first things the child would bring to an air-raid shelter to pass the time during bombing raids. Although The Beano and Dandy were kept running, D.C. Thomson had to close The Magic Comic, and Skipper.
The UK government, because of the paper and ink shortages, created a new law that forbid any publisher to create a new comic unless it was a “one-off” publication. In addition to the loss of The Magic Comic and Skipper, many other comics succumbed to the paper shortages and ink shortages. The World War II conscription also led to many publishers being short staffed.
By the late 1930s, comics were becoming more popular, and publishers were starting to innovate. The new comics of this era were made with smaller pages instead of the cumbersome tabloid size. Humour comics also got some upgrades; the speech bubble was first used during this period making the picture and caption style rarer to find in the comics of the day. The two main publishers, D.C. Thomson and Amalgamated Press, started to create ranges of comics based solely on humour. Amalgamated Press brought out Radio Fun and the Knock-Out Comic to add to their extensive range, while D.C. Thomson published The Dandy and The Beano to complement their “Big Five” adventure comics. The Dandy, launched in 1937, followed the same format of humour strips combined with adventure stories that Funny Folks pioneered. In their first issue, they presented three characters that are still popular today: Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat, and Keyhole Kate.
The Beano, The Dandy’s sister comic, started being published by D.C Thomson a year after The Dandy in 1938, and has since become the longest running British comic ever. The comic can still be seen on newsagent’s shelves today. This comic combined many comic strips with illustrated text stories similar to the format of Funny Folks. It also introduced many iconic comic characters that are still known and loved throughout the country, although they only had one recognisable character in their first issue – Lord Snooty – while The Dandy had at least three. Throughout the last 80 years or so of British comics, The Beano and Dandy have been the standard that each publisher tries to reach, mainly because of their fan base over the years, but also their quality artwork and artists, great storywriters, and their longevity. Amalgamated Press did attempt to compete with the new “upstarts” by bringing out Radio Fun and the Knock-Out Comic. Radio Fun was brought out the same year as The Beano and featured many characters and stories around the popular radio themes and personalities. The Knock-Out Comic, brought out in 1939, was made to be direct competition to The Dandy and Beano. This comic introduced readers to Billy Bunter in comic form, a plump schoolchild whose main ambition was to eat. Billy Bunter outlived the comic when it folded in 1963, and found homes in various other Amalgamated Press offerings, as well as on television, films, and novels. Like The Beano and Dandy, it started off with a half and half balance of prose and comic strips, until after the war, when, unlike its competitors, became mainly adventure stories.
With the success of Rupert Bear to emulate, D.C. Thomson also attempted to jump on the newspaper strip bandwagon. Being a large publisher, D.C. Thomson had its own newspaper named the Sunday Post so they decided to include their new strips in this publication. The two new strips they created were Oor Wullie, a normal, 9 year old Scot, and the Broons, a regular Scottish family. This paper is only available in Scotland; hence, the language used in these comics takes a bit of getting used to for people below the border. The publishers made a masterstroke by appointing their relatively new artist, Dudley D. Watkins, to draw the characters. The strips immediately touched the public’s heart becoming icons of Scotland and its culture, and lasting until the present day by still appearing weekly in the Sunday Post. Oor Wullie even made a guest appearance during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.