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.


Anonymous said...

I was also rather disappointed by their idea of "adult" comics. It came across as an oddly sparse tidying-up exercise attempting to cover a wide range of material that didn't fit into either the funny comics episode or the boys/girls one.

The stuff about Johnny Fartpants (which doesn't engage me to begin with; I can't quite buy into the idea that the creators of Viz were being as cleverly subversive as everyone seems to think) was overly familiar through being virtually lifted from one of those I-Love-the-[Decade] things several years back. I pictured a lot of adult comic-sceptics whose nostalgia had been nurtured by the previous two episodes switching off at that point. I realize the purpose of the series is not necessarily to convert the sceptic, but still...

In the end it just wasn't focused enough. I would rather have seen an overview of the industry in Britain as it is now, including the death of gender-specific comics, the ways in which the funny ones have had to adapt (Beano Max or Dandy Xtreme, anyone?), the growth of small publishers and DIY-via-internet, and indeed the people who are getting attention today.

Steve Flanagan said...

To be fair, as much as I moan, the basic problem was that three hours was not enough: but it was still more than we've had in, oh, the last 50 years of British television!

Incidentally, I find that Viz is one of the few comics that my non-comic-reading friends and acquaintances will happily pick up and look through. Humour comics seem to be an easier sell to adults than drama. But maybe that's a subject for another post.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting; I would've guessed it'd be the other way round. I suppose it's because most people read humour comics at some point as children, whereas they may feel sceptical about the medium's ability to convey serious themes, or be turned off by serious comics which have more whimsical drawings (eg., I'd imagine that David B's Epileptic would be a hard sell for some people, even if the subject matter interested them).