Sunday, 14 August 2016

British Comics: A Cultural History

The specifically British contribution to the history of comics and cartoons remains under-researched and underappreciated. While there is a growing critical literature on such high-profile figures as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison, huge swathes of British cartooning history have been neglected by critics, historians, and fans. As James Chapman points out in his informative new study, the “work of Martin Barker and Roger Sabin represents the only sustained academic engagement with comics in Britain… the British comic has never achieved the cultural cachet of the bande dessinee, but nor has it found a popular mythology equivalent to the American superhero tradition.” While Chapman might also have pointed to Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury’s 2006 book on Great British Comics: Ripping Yarns and Wizard Wheezes, his larger point is a valid one. Not only has “scholarly attention” been “thin on the ground,” fan culture in Britain often evinces a greater interest in second-tier Marvel characters than indigenous creators and titles. The so-called “British invasion” of the 1980s and 1990s is the conspicuous exception precisely because it left its mark on the American mainstream.
Both the scope and the scale of British cartooning are worth emphasizing. The medium’s early development was profoundly influenced by the work of satirical print artists such as William Hogarth (1697-1764), James Gillray (1757-1815), and George Cruikshank (1792-1878), as well as by various London-based illustrated magazines of the nineteenth century, such as Punch, the Illustrated London News, and-read more

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