THERE was a very different cast of characters for the second part of the Comics Britannia documentary, and not just on the page. Gone were the quiet, eccentric types such as Aardman's Nick Park and poet Michael Rosen, who reminisced about The Beano and The Dandy last week, and in came journalist Max Hastings and comedian Frank Skinner to talk about real boys' stuff ... war and football!
Just like in the comics the girls in the audience were given something to keep them quiet too, so cartoonist Posy Simmonds and writer Stella Duffy were there to talk about the stories of ballet, boys and boarding school. A Mel Gibson was on hand to talk about the days of inky fingers – she's a "comics historian", apparently.
Again Comics Britannia took a no-nonsense, chronological approach to telling its story. It picked the launch of the Eagle in 1950 as a starting point. I was amazed to learn that Dan Dare – Pilot of the future, started out, like the Eagle's creator Marcus Morris, as a man of the cloth. Not surprising really, as the comic was launched as a wholesome alternative to the imported American horror comics, such as Tales From the Crypt, that had been busy warping young minds at the time.
The programme was packed with such nuggets of trivia. Who knew that Jacqueline "Tracy Beaker" Wilson was once a DC Thomson employee and that her name inspired a new comic/magazine aimed at girls? Jackie, of course. Or that a young Gerald Scarfe won a drawing competition in the Eagle, with David Hockney as runner-up?
In fact, much of the documentary was a revelation to me because I spent my childhood immersed in humour comics, mainly The Beano, and didn't bother much with sport and war comics. I was amazed to find that pop fops Spandau Ballet once played for Roy of the Rovers – though this explained the signing of Shakin' Stevens in the Viz football spoof Billy the Fish (no doubt more on that in the final part of Comics Britannia next week).
Likewise, I wasn't too familiar with war characters such as Captain Hurricane. He was described here memorably by Frank Skinner as "a sort of muscular Duke of Edinburgh figure ... a racist term for every occasion". It was interesting to hear that Charley's War, a later war strip which dropped the gung-ho approach (no more "Eat lead, Fritz!" caricatures) and attempted to cover the horror and futility of conflict, had been influenced by the real emotions found in the stories of girls' struggles featured in Bunty and Tammy.
Another enjoyable and shamelessly nostalgic romp through the comics, then, but with a hint of sadness. We're told that 10 million comics a week were sold in 1973, but it's made very clear: those days have gone.
Link: Comics Britannia