Celebrating Comics…

Joy is watching BBC Four on Monday night.
For those who didn’t catch yesterday’s first program on Comics Britannia – a three part series – be sure to catch one of the numerous repeats. The first episode focused on the rise of comics in the 40s through to the 60s, and the work of the likes of (if such a thing exists) Leo Baxendale.

Comics, and particularly these early groundbreaking works, greatly influenced the work of many of our contemporary political cartoonists. Indeed Steve Bell was one of the fans commenting on the different publications, with characteristic enthusiasm and guffaw.

For me it was a chance to better understand a cultural aspect of British culture which I still haven’t properly grasped.
I grew up with comics, but mainly American series such as Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey, Dik Browne’s Hägar The Horrible, and later Bill Watterson and Gary Larson. Equally influencial was probably European Comics, such as Gaston Lagaffe by André Franquin and Goscinny/Morris’ Lucky Luke and Goscinny/Uderzo’s Asterix
…to mention just a very few.

Comics are still very much alive in Norway, much more so than here in Britain, with many being published in weekly publications.
For the young marked Disney and other American series (some of which I mention above) dominate. Increasingly however, as many of the American classic series deteriorate from being kept artificially alive after the death of the original creator, homegrown Norwegian talents are taking over – producing world class series for a more adult audience. The most successful by far being Frode Øverli’s consistently brilliant Pondus – a series which is now syndicated all over the world. Nemi, by Lise Myhre, is another with international success (You might have seen it in Metro).

Some of the reason for the success of comics in Norway, particularly with regards to the rise of new artists and series, is the way the comics are published. A few are published in newspapers, but as with all syndication, those are already established strips. More significant are the weekly comics. The most successful ones have a publication of their own. However they feature other series – and crucially showcase new ones. Up-and-coming cartoonists get a chance to have their creation featured as a guest series, which depending on the popularity, then might lead to a regular appearance and ultimately a publication of their own.

It’s great to see British Comics being celebrated on BBC Four. More importantly though, it’s heartening to see that the artform is experienceing something of a revival, albeit in a different form than the Beano type comic celebrated in Monday’s program. Only recently publishing houses in this country have started seen the commercial potential in Graphic Novels, and the education establishment are starting to acknowledge, what anyone with a passion for comics always knew, the benefits this art has for childrens’ reading skills among other things. Although graphic novel artists and publishers alike sometimes are (over)eager to stress that they are not in the Comics Business, we can only hope that as Random House, Harper Collins and Bloomsbury all release graphic novels these days, it’s the start of a broader appreciation and renaissance for the Comics industry as well.

The next part of the Comics Britannia looks at the gender defining comics of post-war Britain.
Part three focuses on the darker, more graphic comics that emerged in the 80s and 90s.
Be sure to catch them all.

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