Children’s Literature 2.

A Brief History of British Comics.

By Sally Yeshin.

It can be argued that the antecedents of Comics were the political and social caricaturists such as Hogarth and Cruickshank used pictures to make a point and in some cases to provide humour. However, the first publication that can be described as a comic was Comic Cuts published in 1890 and ran until 1953. It was priced at the critical price point of a half penny (about 2P today) for the first edition and a much later version cost 3 pence:


There were a number of comics that copied Comic Cuts including the publisher’s other long-lasting comic Chips (1896 – 1953). Chips’ biggest stars were Weary Waddles and Tired Timmy two old tramps whose stories amused many readers.

The next big innovation in comics was the use of colour. The first successful comic in colour is Puck which costs one penny. This became the rule: a black and white comic was half a pence and a colour comic was one penny. Puck was launched in 1904 and finally withdrawn in 1940
when the war cut its paper supply. To target younger children Puck Junior was also introduced.

It was really posted the first World War baby boom that meant comics directly targeted at children took off. Nearly a dozen titles were launched in the 1920s including the clearly targeted Tiny Tots.

The 1920s also saw the development of comics linked to the burgeoning film industry but it was the 1930s that was a real golden era with D C Thompson’s foray into the comic market. The Scottish company launched what is now known as ‘The Big Five’: Rover, Wizard, Adventure, Hotspur and Skipper. They were all based on stories aimed
at Boys.

The most famous comics with much more irreverent humour were launched around this time. The Dandy came out in 1937 with famous characters like Desperate Dan and
Korky the Cat. Its final published edition was in 2012. While the perennially popular Beano was launched in 1938 with the front page character being an ostrich called Big
Eggo. Dennis the Menace did not appear in the Beano until 1951 and Minnie the Minx in 1953.

The 1950s saw another big launch and change in the Comic market. The much more educational and ‘morally pure’ comic The Eagle was launched
in 1950 and carried on as an extremely popular comic until 1969. Its circulation topped 1 million. Undoubtedly the most famous character was Dan Dare.

The 1950s also saw the launch of comics aimed at girls. The sister comic to The Eagle was Girl. There had been earlier comics in the 1920s based on school stories such as School Friend (1919 to 1920) and
Schoolgirl’s Own (1921 to 1936) but they were not very long-lasting. It was perhaps Bunty that was the first really long-lasting success (1958 -2001) it still featured school stories but also ballet, sports and an element of fantasy. Similar comics
such as Mandy and Tammy also sprung up.

The 1960s saw a trend towards music publications and the female teenage press moved away from the traditional comic to magazines. Jackie was launched successfully in
1964 while later Smash Hits and Rave became popular:

Meanwhile, the boy’s market, there
was influenced by American comics
but the British comic that was a notable success was in 2000 AD. Launched in 1977 it featured a revitalised Dan Dare but the real star was Judge Dredd – a lawman of the future whose right-wing philosophy in a post-nuclear society was exaggerated to truly comic proportions.

From then on the comic market became either Super Hero dominated or for the very young. Take a look inside Woods of Whitchurch to be assailed by a profusion of Princesses and young favourites such as Peppa Pig!

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