Review: Comics Britannia

Comics Britannia

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.

  • “Worth watching, even if you have minimal interest in the subject matter.”
    Precisely 🙂 That’s what makes a ‘niche’ programme really good. The same can be said for last night’s ‘Jonathan Ross In Search Of Steve Ditko’ (co-creator of Spider-Man). I don’t really care, but it was made with such passion and care that it was fun to watch nonetheless.

  • espedair

    Of course it goes without saying that the Eagle was the best comic to appear in the British isles until 2000AD. Its a fact.. and I bet its on Wikipedia.. or something

  • You betcha!

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    Hotspur? Lion? Valiant? Krazy? Whizzer and Chips?
    How soon they forget.
    I bet Robot Archie’s turning in his rusty grave.

  • Dan Dare shot him?

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    No, killed by the callous indifference of a comics-buying public that prefers anything with an X in the title.* Another lost icon.
    Although to be somewhat more serious, it is interesting how easy it is for most characters in UK publications to fall into obscurity, despite being popular in their day. And yet, we always wheel out Dan Bloody Dare for these kind of retrospectives, despite his publication history being decidedly patchy after the ’50s. Is this evidence of the original Bellamy strips having some kind of enduring quality? Or just laziness on the part of researchers?
    *Probably not including those who bothered to buy Leah “Daughter of Alan” Moore’s “Albion”.

  • Only about five people bought Albion, because it wasn’t very good.

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    It wasn’t very good, but I doubt that’s the reason for its relatively modest sales; people will buy crap. I just don’t think you can sell a series on the strength of obscure characters and questionable involvement of Curt Vile.

  • I’m watching it right now at your recommendation. It’s really good, isn’t it? I love Jonathan Ross documentaries, too – if you never saw The Incredibly Strange Film Show, find copies if you can. They might be on 4oD, even. They’re brilliant.