Comics Britannia - image © BBC

BBC Four’s “Comics Britannia” re-visited

Comics Britannia - image © BBC
Image © BBC

Back in 2007, the BBC broadcast Comics Britannia, a three-part documentary series devoted to history of British comics – a welcome and major retrospective of our medium (if a tad lightweight for some commentators tastes), that prompted a lot of creators to suggest the Corporation should do more to cover it.

Although the same production team returned to comics, in part, with the series Rude Britannia – from Chaucer to Little Britain, three years later, sadly we’re still waiting for a decent regular comics magazine show.

(We’ll ignore The Apprentice, which recently tried (and failed) to make it look as though creating a comic was so easy even aspiring City wannabes could do it without any background research or, come to that, talent).

Comics Britannia - image © BBC
Armando Iannucci, comic-ified. Image © BBC

Narrated by Armando Iannucci, over three parts, Comics Britannia explored the history of comics on this side of the pond, from pre-war origins in Scotland, through the post-war glut of boys’ and girls’ adventure comics to the present phenomenon of the ‘graphic novel’ – ‘adult comics’ in laymen’s terms, or “’big expensive comics’ as I’d call them”, said reluctant graphic-novel hero Alan Moore.

The series formed the centrepiece of a BBC Four comics season which also included a one-off film, In Search Of Steve Ditko, which saw Jonathan Ross go in search of his hero – comic book legend, Steve Ditko. Other programmes within the season included Adam West’s Batman series and Modesty Blaise.

After the series aired The Guardian‘s Richard Vine opined that while BBC Four was getting a rough ride, series like Comics Britannia were streets ahead of the competition – so its a shame there hasn’t really been anything similar since.

Even the teasers for the show, created by Kiss My Pixel, intended to create the feeling that each programme was contained in its own comic, earned kudos, and were shortlisted for the Royal Television Society Awards.

Comics Britannia - image © BBC
Image © BBC

As part of the publicity surrounding the series, which included a BBC micro site featuring contributions from Lew Stringer (who rightfully pointed out at the time that its was never intended to be in depth as some might have liked) and others, and Martin Aston’s interview with Alan Moore in the Radio Times.

The Guardian also commissioned Bryan Talbot to provide a cover and a three page illustrated history of British comics – a “Bluffer’s Guide”, if you like, featured in The Guide.

The Guardian - Comics Britannia }The Guide" cover by Bryan Talbot

The Guardian - Comics Britannia }The Guide" Strip by Bryan TalbotThe Guardian - Comics Britannia }The Guide" Strip by Bryan TalbotCurrently working on a new graphic novel with partner Mary, Bryan Talbot is now published in over twenty countries and winner of many comic awards – including an Eisner award, the Prix SNCF and several Eagles – having been working in the medium for over thirty years.

Recognised as one of the most influential British comic artists ever, Bryan has produced underground and alternative comics, notably Brainstorm!, and science fiction and superhero stories such as “Judge Dredd” and “Nemesis the Warlock” for 2000AD, Teknophage, The Nazz and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight.

Bryan has also worked on DC Vertigo titles including Hellblazer, Sandman, The Dreaming and Fables, and has written and drawn the graphic novels for which he is best known, including the Grandville series of steampunk detective thrillers, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright (the first British graphic novel), Heart of Empire, The Tale of One Bad Rat, Alice in Sunderland, Metronome and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, this last written by Mary, which won the Costa Biography Award in 2013.

Art from “Dotter of her Father’s Eyes”
Art from “Dotter of her Father’s Eyes”

A Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, one of his most recent published works is The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, co-created with Mary, published by Jonathan Cape.

Perhaps we’ll see another series like Comics Britannia at some point, one that covers the entire history of their rise from Ally Sloper and Comic Cuts onwards. One for Rebellion to consider as a TV project, perhaps?

WEB LINKS

• Bryan Talbot’s Official Web Site: www.bryan-talbot.com | Twitter: @bryan_talbot

BBC Comics Britannia Episode Guide

The BBC Micro Site created alongside the Comic Britannia series is archived here, including features, interviews and more

The Guardian’s Richard Vine argues for more series like Comics Britannia- back in 2007

Martin Aston discusses his Comics Britannia interview with Alan Moore for the Radio Times

Charlie Brooker on Comics Britannia – Subscription Required

Journalist Andrew Collins reveals his role in Comics Britannia and his brush with comics fame in the pages of an early 2000AD

Paul Gravett explores the themes behind Comics Britannia – Anarchy in the UK

Lew Stringer Review of Comics Britannia

Kim Newman on Comics Britannia

Dan Owen’s review of Comics Britannia – Boys and Girls

Professional Cartoonists Organisation member Royston Robertson reviews the third episode of Comics Britannia, Anarchy in the UK

With thanks to downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf who posted Bryan’s strip on his Boys Adventure Blog here along with some of the artist’s Dan Dare work

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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