Saturday, July 09, 2011

Learning from history

This October sees the publication of a new book on the history of UK comics. Titled British Comics: A Cultural History the 320 page hardback is written by James Chapman, a Professor of Film Studies who has previously authored books on film in relation to society.

The book promises to cover the whole history of British comics, from the early days of Ally Sloper to the present day. (Hopefully its conclusions won't be too downbeat and dismissive of current UK comics as some studies have been.)

The book is now up for pre-order at Amazon UK.

Back when the late comics historian Denis Gifford was still with us he seemed to be producing books on the history of comics on a regular basis, from the slim digest Discovering Comics to the weighty International Book of Comics. Back when I was 16 and supposedly revising for my 'O' Level exams at the local library I'd be pouring through Denis' Happy Days, One Hundred Years of Comics instead. It never did me any harm. In fact it inspired me and stood me in good stead for the future.

Since Denis died several years ago there's been much written on specific areas of British comics but not so much about the whole history of the artform. However one such book is Great British Comics by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury. The large format 192 page softback was published in 2006 but copies are still available (here) and should be essential reading for anyone interested in the background of UK comics.

Here's a few snapshots of some of the spreads from Great British Comics to give you an idea. Every page is in full colour, the research is top-notch, and the book is well illustrated with crisp, clear scans throughout.

Will James Chapman's British Comics book be a match for Great British Comics? No doubt it'll have its own opinions and approach to the history, but that can only be a good thing to broaden one's knowledge of the medium. Roll on October!


Fanton said...

I have happy memories of reading and re-reading Denis Gifford's 'International Book of Comics', great book. Hope this turns out to be as fascinating.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, Denis' books sometimes had mistakes, particularly in information on comics post-1960, but the good they did far outweighed any bad. They opened up a world of information on comics "before our time" and his research provided names to artists who had worked anonymously for decades.

Dave W said...

Thanks for alerting us to this new book, Lew. It looks interesting and I'll certainly buy it.

The cover scan looks to me like the book will be of a smaller format, perhaps like Graham Kibble-White's Ultimate book of Comics?

Whatever the format, I hope it is profusely illustrated with examples of covers and interior artwork from throughout comics' history, as well as being well researched, of course!

James Chapman said...

Dear Lew,
Thanks for mentioning my forthcoming book on your blog. I hope it won't disappoint! It's very much a cultural history, looking at the history of comic publishing and comic reading in Britain, though I hope it also conveys something of the pleasure to be had from reading comics. It comes up to what I've described as a 'British comics renaissance' centred around the work of key writers like Ian Edginton, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and of course Alan Moore. I hope I've done them all justice - though inevitably a lot had to be condensed or even left out altogether to cover over a century of comics. In fact I'm sure that some aficionados will think the interwar period gets too short shrift.
Denis Gifford's work is very much the bedrock on which we all build. His book on Victorian Comics is still the only book devoted to that important formative period. I was able to consult his papers and research notes at the British Film Institute - which proved very helpful. Along with some new stuff from the National Archives on the horror comics campaign that I don't think anyone else has referenced yet. In 1954 Winston Churchill asked for a briefing note on comics and was sent copies of Captain Marvel among other titles!
Best wishes, and thanks again,
James Chapman

Lew Stringer said...

Good to hear from you James. I hope the book does well. Some areas have to be left out for space of course but I hope the pre-war period is at least mentioned as there's a lot of cultural references and influences in those comics.

Regarding the horror comics campaign, I trust you've seen these clippings from the Mirror archive? :


James Chapman said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Lew!

In answer to Dave's point, yes, it's a standard size book not an oversize. It won't be as copiously illustrated as Paul Gravett's marvellous tome, I'm afraid. As an academic book and under 'fair use' guidlines the illustrations have to relate to a point being made in the text. And some fans might be horrified to hear that all the illustrations are black and white (yes, including Hampson's Dan Dare!) I would have preferred a colour plates section, but this would have pushed up the cost to the point where it wouldn't have been possible for the publisher to produce it at a price where people might actually buy it!

Best wishes,

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