In the UK: Mondays, BBC4, 9pm
I’m not a big fan of British comics. At least, not the Beano, et al. The only time I ever came across them when I was growing up was in doctors’ waiting rooms. So the first episode of Comics Britannia, a new history of British comics, shouldn’t have been that interesting to me.
Narrated by Armando Iannucci and featuring interviews with the writers and artists behind the Dandy et al, Comics Britannia was still surprisingly riveting. I don’t whether that’s the union man in me, wanting to turn every obvious example of exploited labour into a parable of the virtues of joining a union. But certainly you couldn’t watch this documentary without thinking that a lot of talented people have been hard done by over the decades thanks to exploitative management.
Featuring contributions by fans such as Steve Bell, this first episode did at least give you an appreciation for something that even if I still think is mostly tedious and unfunny, seems to have entertained millions over the years. It’s well researched, well structured and some actual budget seems to have been spent on injecting the various interviewees into faux comics backgrounds. It also does a good job of explaining the historical and social contexts of the comics and why some kids seemed to find them funny.
Fortunately, the remaining two episodes are on slightly more interesting topics: the gender-specific comics, such as Eagle and Bunty, of the post-war years; and the darker comics of the 80s and 90s, which should feature an interview with Alan Moore among others. Worth watching, even if you have minimal interest in the subject matter.