Here's the press release to the forthcoming BBC Four documentaries about British comics; Comics Britannia. Let's hope it's an optimistic set of programmes and doesn't feature the sort myths that UK comics are "dead in the water" today, as one "comic expert" claimed in his book a few years ago! That sort of misinformation does the UK industry no favours at all.
UPDATE 27/8/2007: Today's column from Rich Johnston (Dying in the Gutters) provides more info as Rich was sent copies of the shows. Whilst I'm eagerly looking forward to the documentaries, I'm not too confident when I hear they claim that The Dandy was "the first comic to use the modern-day speech balloon". I hope it's only Rich who's mistaken on that and not an error in the programme itself. British comics were using speech balloons years before The Dandy appeared in December 1937, as the cover to this 1919 issue of Comic Cuts proves:
Some might think I'm being pedantic, but my feeling is; if you're going to do a job, do it right. Make a few glaring errors and people lose faith in the rest of the information they're being given. However, I'm sure my worries will be unfounded and the overall result will please us all and will give British comics the respect they deserve. Anyway, here's the press release:
September 10, 17th & 24th
BBC Four 3x 60 mins
How we grew up with comics and how comics grew up with us……
From the Beano to Bunty, Commando to Viz, the Eagle to 2000AD, British comics have captivated generations from the Thirties to the present day.
Now BBC Four delves into the world of the British comic, exploring the art and craft of the industry in a celebration of this British comics tradition.
The series features those who wrote and drew the original strips, comics experts and a range of fans whose lives have been shaped by reading ‘classic strips.’
Comics Britannia is a rich mix of interviews, strips and archive illuminated by a unique graphics style which literally allows you to step into the comics world.
Comics Britannia forms the centrepiece of BBC Four’s Comics Season, which also includes Jonathan Ross in search of comic legend Steve Ditko, Adam West Batman series, The Batman Story and Modesty Blaise.
Programme One: The Fun Factory
COMICS BRITANNIA explores the world of the children’s humour comic and the revolution which began with the first publication of the Dandy in 1937.
The series explains why colourful, cheap publications like the Dandy, and then the Beano enchanted a generation living through the effects of the Depression, WW2 and post-war Austerity.
Comics Britannia revisits the golden age of comics in the Fifties and early Sixties and looks at the work of great comics artists Dudley Watkins, Davey Law, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid, revealing how a new subversive and anarchic humour emerged from the pages of the Beano and the Dandy.
Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, writer Jacqueline Wilson, Oscar winning animator Nick Park and Cartoonist Steve Bell discuss their passion for comics, with some surprising revelations!
Programme Two: Boys & Girls
Following the Second World War boys and girls adventure comics emerged to capture the imaginations of the growing baby boomer generation.
Comics Britannia tells the extraordinary story of the bohemian vicar who founded the most ground-breaking comic to emerge in the immediate post- war era – The Eagle, complete with its very own super hero, Dan Dare.
The programme looks at attempts to create the equivalent for girls —comics featuring ballet and boarding schools, such as School Friend, Girl and Bunty.
Meanwhile, the boys grew up with their comic book heroes achieving impossible feats of courage and endeavour on the fields of sport and battle, with the larger than life exploits of Captain Hurricane and Roy of the Rovers.
But comics would soon have to reinvent themselves and follow their readers as they grew older. Titles such as Mirabelle and Romeo were introduced to appeal to older girls who had once loved Bunty & Girl.
Into the Sixties and Seventies the industry responded to a changing Britain with a new generation of comics such as Jackie, Tammy and Battle aimed at meeting the new demands of teenage readers.
Fans of comics in this episode include comedian Frank Skinner, ex footballer and pundit Mark Lawrenson, cartoonists Posy Simmonds and Gerald Scarfe, and writer Jacqueline Wilson, who all reveal their childhood favourites.
Programme Three: X-Rated : Anarchy in the UK
[NB 10pm tx]
COMICS BRITANNIA X –RATED reveals how during the Seventies and Eighties a generation grew up reading a new kind of comic. Directed at older, adult readers, these comics had strips with darker, more satirical and sexual material. There was a new sophistication in the writing and artwork which began to see comic books evolve into a new phenomenon – the graphic novel.
From the bedroom of brothers Chris and Simon Donald in Newcastle came the outrageous Viz which by the Eighties was selling a million copies nationwide and was responsible for inventing the Fat Slags, Roger Mellie, Johnny Fartpants and Sid the Sexist.
At the same time in the late Seventies, 2000 AD was published, sending Punks into Space and creating the iconic anti-hero Judge Dredd.
Out of this comics ‘new wave’ emerged a major talent, writer Alan Moore. Working with leading artists, he created ground-breaking work such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The programme interviews Moore and the group of other writers and artists who spearheaded the adult-oriented revolution in British comics: Simon and Chris Donald, Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquerra, Kevin O’Neill, Alan Grant and David Lloyd.
Super comics fans Frank Skinner, Stewart Lee, Andrew Collins and
Charles Shaar Murray are also on hand to offer their take.
Contributors available for interviews:
Kevin O’Neill & programme 3
Jacqueline Wilson & programme 2
Pat Mills & programme 3
Frank Skinner & programme 3
Mel Gibson & programme 3
Charles Shaar Murray
Official website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/comicsbritannia/