How British comic cover dates have (largely) lied to you for decades

Whizzer and Chips cover dated 28th February 1970, with free Disguise Kit gift

British comics publishers – and, indeed, any publisher – love a good anniversary. Who doesn’t want to celebrate milestone dates for a long-running title? It gives many readers a feel good buzz, you can hang a promotion around it. News sites can give your celebration an extra boost, with “On This Day” styled reports.

Sounds great, right?

Except, in many cases, unless it’s a milestone issue number that’s being marked, all those celebrations and anniversary posts are appearing a week later than they actually need to.

An assortment of British comics, courtesy of Lew Stringer
An assortment of British comics, courtesy of Lew Stringer

This is because, as a general rule of thumb, with the exception of, for example the modern 2000AD, the cover date of a classic British comic like Battle Picture Weekly, BEANO, or Whizzer and Chips was is actually some days later than when it on sale, not on!

Yes, that’s right, cover dates are, for some at least, a week later than the actual on sale date, because they were there to instruct newsagents just when to take a title off the rack and load up the new edition. It was a Keep It Simple Stupid means to assist busy staff in the days before the off sale checklists you might see a WHSmith employee working to today, alongside their latest planogram.

Confused? Don’t worry. So are a lot of people.

Thankfully, in part born from frustration as a comics archivist as well as comic creator who’s seen many a “fake” anniversary, Lew Stringer has created a handy graphic, that explains this head scratcher for many.

“I hope it helps!” he says. “I think the problems began with Denis Gifford‘s books, as he always stated the cover date as publication day, which was wrong, and has led to comics like 2000AD celebrating its birthday on the wrong day every year. (These days, 2000AD‘s cover date is its publication day, but that wasn’t the case originally).

We do, too… Yours to cut out (er, print out) and keep, readers!

However, a quick note of caution. Before anyone tries to apply a “rule of thumb” to this system, I should warn you that you shouldn’t regard all cover dates as “off sale dates”. While the cover date for titles published on a Saturday was, usually, a week later, for titles that came out mid week (like, for example, Battle, The Beano, Topper and TV Century 21), they would still be on sale until the Wednesday after the Saturday cover date.

“All comics carried the date of the following Saturday, whether they went off sale that day or not. Even now, today’s BEANO has Saturday’s date but it won’t be replaced on the shelves until next Wednesday.”

Check out Lew’s work here on his official blog – and buy his comics, too: lewstringercomics.blogspot.com

Lew’s brilliant journey through the history of British comics, Blimey!, published between 2006 and 2019, is still online at lewstringer.blogspot.com – well worth a nostalgic visit!

Oh, wait! You want the whole cover, drawn by Leo Baxendale, to savour too, right? Here it is, courtesy of Lew… find out more about the early issues of Wham! here

Wham No. 2, cover dated 27th June 1964.with thanks to Lew Stringer
Wham No. 2, cover dated 27th June 1964.with thanks to Lew Stringer

With thanks to Lew Stringer. This item has been updated for hopeful clarification since first posted!

Wham!, Whizzer and Chips copyright Rebellion Publishing Limited

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.



Categories: 2000AD, British Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News

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1 reply

  1. Knew this! (Feeling slightly smug…). Actually it did confuse me for years. I grew up in Northern Ireland and most of the comics I bought hit the shelves every Friday, a full eight days before the date on the cover. Can’t remember how I found out about how the date was the ‘return date’ but actually it makes a lot of sense for newsagents.

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