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British comics facts for kids

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British comics
Earliest publications 1828
Publishers
  • Amalgamated Press
  • D. C. Thomson & Co.
  • Fleetway
  • Nobrow Press
  • SelfMadeHero
Publications
Creators
Characters
  • Ally Sloper
  • Andy Capp
  • Desperate Dan
  • Dennis the Menace
  • Bash Street Kids
  • Dan Dare
  • Roy of the Rovers
  • Charley's War
  • Fred Bassett
  • Jane
  • Judge Dredd
  • Luther Arkwright
Languages British English

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 two most popular British comics, The Beano and The Dandy, were released by DC Thomson in the 1930s. By 1950 the weekly circulation of both reached two million. Explaining the enormous popularity of comics in British popular culture during this period, Anita O’Brien, director curator at London's Cartoon Museum, states: “When comics like The Beano and Dandy were invented back in the 1930s – and through really to the 1950s and 60s – these comics were almost the only entertainment available to children."

In 1954, Tiger comics introduced Roy of the Rovers, the hugely popular football based strip recounting the life of Roy Race and the team he played for, Melchester Rovers. The stock media phrase "real 'Roy of the Rovers' stuff" is often used by football writers, commentators and fans when describing displays of great skill, or surprising results that go against the odds, in reference to the dramatic storylines that were the strip's trademark. Other comics such as Eagle, Valiant, Warrior, Viz and 2000 AD also flourished. Some comics, such as Judge Dredd and other 2000 AD titles, have been published in a tabloid form. Underground comics and "small press" titles have also appeared in the UK, notably Oz and Escape Magazine. While the best selling comics in the UK have been British, American comic books and Japanese manga are popular in the UK.

Overview

The description comics derived from the names of popular titles such as Comic Cuts, and from the fact that in the beginning all the titles presented only comical (i.e. humorous) content.

British comics typically differ from the American comic book. Although historically they shared the same format size, based on a sheet of 30 x 22 inch imperial paper, folded, British comics have moved away from this size, adopting a standard magazine size. Until that 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.

Originally aimed at the semi-literate working class (in that it replaced the text-based stories of the story papers with picture-based stories, which were less challenging for a poorly educated readership), the comic gradually came to be seen as childish (in part because, due to gradual improvements in public education, children were eventually the only remaining market for a format designed to be unchallenging for the reader). Hence by the mid 20th Century it was being marketed exclusively towards children.

Historically, strips were of one or two pages in length, with a single issue of a comic containing upwards of a dozen separate strips, featuring different characters. In more recent times, strips have become longer and have tended to continue over a number of issues and periods of time.

Whilst some comics contained only strips, other publications such as Jackie have had a slightly different focus, providing their girl 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. For boys there were, historically, similar publications based upon soccer, such as Shoot!, which featured non-fiction picture articles about popular footballers, league clubs, and general football news, accompanied by a limited range of football-based comic strips.

In British comics history, there are some extremely long-running publications such as The Beano and The Dandy published by D. C. Thomson & Co., a newspaper company based in Dundee, Scotland. The Dandy began in 1937 and The Beano in 1938. The Beano is still going today while The Dandy ceased print publication in 2012. The Boys' Own Paper, another long-running publication which was aimed at boys in a slightly older age group, lasted from 1879 to 1967.

There has been a continuous tradition, since the 1950s, of black and white comics, published in a smaller page size format, many of them war titles such as Air Ace, inspiring youngsters with tales of the exploits of the army, navy and Royal Air Force, mainly in the two world wars. There have also been some romance titles and some westerns in this format.

On March 19, 2012, the British postal service, the Royal Mail, released a set of stamps depicting characters and series from British comics. The collection featured The Beano, The Dandy, Eagle, The Topper, Roy of the Rovers, Bunty, Buster, Valiant, Twinkle and 2000 AD.

Reprint market for US comics

After World War II, the UK was intent on promoting homegrown publishers, and thus banned the direct importation of American periodicals, including comic books. As a result, U.S. comic books typically arrived in the UK as ballast on ships. Although the comics-reading public in the UK was not always able to get reliable supplies of American comics, it has always enjoyed the different approach to comics writing from the other side of the Atlantic.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle — a female version of Tarzan (with an element of H. Rider Haggard's "She who must be obeyed" – She... Na!) — was licensed from the Eisner & Iger studio for a British/Australasian tabloid, Wags, in 1937. The success of this character led to the Sheena stories being repackaged for publication in the United States for Fiction House's Jumbo Comics, thus exporting the character back to her country of origin.

Beginning in the 1940s, the available American comics were supplemented by a variety of black-and-white reprints of Fawcett's Captain Marvel, characters such as Sheena, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, and Marvel Comics' 1950s monster comics. Several reprint companies were involved in this repackaging American material for the British market, notably L. Miller & Son, the Arnold Book Company, Alan Class Comics, and the importer/distributor/publisher Thorpe & Porter.

Thorpe & Porter began by publishing Dell's Four Color series and Classics Illustrated in the UK. They also republished similar formatted titles under various names. Thorpe & Porter' Stratos imprint published a long-running Western comics series, Kid Colt, Outlaw, which contained black-and-white reprints from both Atlas Comics and DC. T & P also published some material never published in the US.

When Captain Marvel ceased publication in the United States because of a lawsuit, 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, created by British writer/artist Mick Anglo, continued for a few years and, as seen above, were revived years later in Warrior. The British publishers reprinted many other American series, including the early 1950s Eerie and Black Magic in black-and-white format. These usually contained the American stories related to the cover but also additional backup stories to fill up the 64 pages.

In 1959, the UK ban on direct importation was lifted. Thorpe & Porter became the sole UK distributor of both DC and Marvel comics. The comics were printed on American printing presses — along with a special cover giving the British price instead of the price in cents — and shipped across the Atlantic. Thus it was that brand-new American-printed copies of Fantastic Four #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, and countless others appeared in the UK.

Thorpe & Porter went bankrupt in 1966 and was purchased by the distribution arm of DC Comics, then known as IND. As a result, T & P's output became almost exclusively reprints of DC titles. Marvel Comics superhero reprints appeared in Odhams Press' Power Comics line in 1966–1969, overlapping for a period with Alan Class Comics' reprinting of some of Marvel's superhero characters. Marvel reprints also appeared in City Magazines' TV21 in 1970–1971. And in 1972 Marvel launched Marvel UK, cornering the market on Marvel reprints; key titles included The Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly. The importation of Marvel's American comics continued to be erratic due to Marvel UK's promotion of their own reprints, which meant some titles were not offered for periods — The Amazing Spider-Man being a prime example.

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 that company's titles in the UK. Igor Goldkind was Titan's (and Forbidden Planet's, which was owned by the same company) marketing consultant at the time; he helped popularise the term "graphic novel" for the trade paperbacks they were releasing, which generated a lot of attention from the mainstream press.

Panini Comics took over in 1994, reprinting many of Marvel's titles, as well as Marvel UK reprints. Panini's titles include 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 a Collector's Edition line of comics, featuring a cardboard cover, three stories and a letters page on the inside back cover. Other titles include Astonishing Spider-Man, Essential X-Men, and Mighty World of Marvel, which reprints a variety of Marvel Comics. Beginning in 2003, Panini also published one DC comic, Batman Legends, reprinting various Batman adventures (e.g. two parts of a multi-title crossover and an issue of Batman: Year One); this title is now published by Titan Magazines.

Reprints of Japanese and European comics

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. Both no longer publish British versions of Japanese comics; Random House abandoned all Japanese comics translations in early 2009, while Orion switched to publishing the original American versions.

Simultaneously, the very small press Fanfare/Ponent Man published a few UK-exclusive English-language editions of alternative Japanese manga and French bande dessinée.

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