Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Peter Pan and the Lost Comics
On the voiceover, Armando Iannucci is talking about comics for adults. But on the screen, there’s a big picture of Judge Death.
Hello, cognitive dissonance!
The overt argument of the third and last of the BBC’s Comics Britannia documentaries, “Anarchy in the UK”, was that comics had grown up. But everything conspired to remind the viewer of how far comics still cling to childhood. 2000AD was originally designed for 12-year olds. Unusually, its readers did not give up the comic in puberty, but went on reading it through their – OK, then, our - teens, twenties, thirties and forties. That allowed 2000AD’s creators to build up the satire and the violence, and eventually to add in a little sex. But the tastes of those 12-year olds formed its foundations and still determine its basic structure.
There’s a similar consideration about most of the other comics featured last night. Viz not only uses the style of DC Thomson and IPC children’s humour comics, but much of its own humour is thoroughly juvenile. Small children would enjoy the fart jokes of Johnny Fartpants, while Roger Mellie is just that boy on the bus shouting “bogies!”, but with a more extensive vocabulary. Much was made of Deadline’s connection to the rave scene, a pop culture movement that rejected adult responsibility and idealised ravers as loved-up children. The featured works of Alan Moore are elaborate and complex stories – but about superheroes and the heroines of classic children’s books.
Mind you, that impression was partly due to the selection of material. In my mind’s eye, I pictured an alternative arrangement that put 2000AD, Warrior and Watchmen into an extended version of last week’s documentary about (in part) boys’ adventure comics. My imaginary new third instalment would, instead, consider how Raymond Briggs had used the techniques he developed in his comic albums for children to address genuinely adult concerns in Ethel and Ernest (by way of When the Wind Blows). It would trace Posy Simmonds’s development of newspaper comic strips – always intended for adults – into works such as Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe. It would cover the undergrounds and Hunt Emerson, the small press scene and Eddie Campbell, the growth of British-produced manga and webcomics. And it could conclude with the two big British commercial successes this year – not just Alice in Sunderland, but also Simone Lia’s Fluffy.
Because, sometimes, there’s nothing more grown-up than a talking rabbit.
Roger the Dodger and his friend Tommy attempt to impersonate an adult. Non-consecutive panels from a story reprinted in Dandy and Beano: Famous Faces from the Comics (DC Thomson, 1992). Art by Ken Reid, I think.