The Bicentennial Comic

Many people are not aware, but in another 10 years in 2025, we will be celebrating the bicentennial of the publication of what is currently considered to be the first ever comic, the Glasgow Looking Glass. Published in 1825, this was the publication that started what I consider to be my favourite hobby.

As a result of this, I thought that I would look at what the world of comics is like now. And to my mind, it is a great place to be. It may not be the world of comics that I had in my youth, but if that was the case, I would be desperately worried, as a static entity tends to decay rather than maintain or grow.

So what bits do I miss from the heady days of the 1970’s? Well, the fact that so many great comics were available at every newsagent. You could walk in to your local newsagent and find many titles such as the humour comics such as Beano, Dandy, Whizzer and Buster, adventure comics such as Battle, Warlord, Victor and 2000AD or girls comics such as Tammy, Bunty, Jinty or Blue Jeans. Not that I ever read the last four you understand, but I have put them in for comparison purposes. But when you consider what little competition they had, it was unsurprising that comics held sway for most of the 1970s. And while I understand that the comics I knew from my youth could not last forever, I still wish they could have printed another issue or 10.

Space Invaders and Pong only began to make their presence felt in the late 1970s and they were harbingers of a culture change that few of us suspected. And the process accelerated through the 1980s until today when electronic entertainment is big business and comics almost feel sidelined. But are they truly?

Now, this is why I think that this is one of the best times to be a comics fan. In 1989, I picked up my first independent comic. This was published by a small company in Glasgow and reached across Scotland. This was Electric Soup and I picked up issue 10. The first comparison was to think of it as a Scottish Viz, but it was so much more. We had a send up of the sectarian idiocy that was rife in Scotland, and still rears its’ head all too often, in Billy Pope. There was an exploration of the growing “stoner” culture in Rocky McBlaw. Just sheer hilarity and blood with the Wildebeests. Another mickey take that ripped Miami Vice and many of the po-faced police dramas in Polis Story. The MacBams were a Scottish variant of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Tunnock McNulty and HelmetMan were another pair of comic characters. And then we had the story that launced a certain Frank Quitely on his meteoric rise to comic superstardom, The Greens. If you can get the Scottish humour and willing to put up with a wee swearie from time to time, then get it. In fact, I think that Electric Soup could do with a post or three of its’ own.

But that was 26 years ago and why does it impact on my thoughts that today is a great place to be for comic fans? Well, last night, I was able to chat with Dave Alexander, one of the creators of this comic and I had a great time. I was also able to chat with Big Jim “Ganjaman” Stewart (that’s a post for another day too) and Jon Haward. 26 years ago, I would not have known what these guys looked like, let alone been able to meet them, except at random events and that would only happen if I caught the right magazine at the right time. Not only these illuminaries were there, but there were also Jim Alexander, Will Pickering and Eli Winter of Planet Jimbot. And we also had Patt, another comic creator with some lovely art. He did a flattering sketch of yours truly which I think took a few pounds off me!

The author
A sighting of the chunkier oldicus grumpicus

I also got a couple of sketches from a pair of up and coming artists that have got to be going somewhere. Chris Connolly and Thomas McWilliams, that is some nice art you two have done. I don’t think this sketch truly does justice to Tom’s work as his style is very reminiscent of Jim McCarthy

Tom McWilliams Dredd

Suicide Squad Joker

Tonight (3 July 2015), I am heading back to Glasgow for the opening meet and greet of Glasgow ComicCon and I hope to meet a few more of our current artists and writers. And then, I will be at the convention proper on Saturday and Sunday.

And if that is not enough, we have DeeCon in Dundee in April, Edinburgh ComicCon a week later, Aberdeen ComicCon in late May and Dundee Comics Day in October. All great chances to meet artists and writers. Also, great for picking up new comics and getting them signed. And all this is just in Scotland!

Add to that, we now have comics treated as a serious subject for study by academia. Admittedly, the three main UK proponets are Chris Murray, Phillip Vaughan and Mary Talbot. But they are still three wonderful minds to have fighting your corner.

I can’t say it often enough. It’s a great time to be a comics fan. And if you think not, then you are not looking in the right places!

And a few other pictures from the July Scottish Comics Society nights for your delight.

Walken Joker Twerking Dredd Robot Space Patt Robot

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3 thoughts on “The Bicentennial Comic

  1. Well, I’m still not convinced about that but can’t decide if it’s nostalgia that’s colouring my opinion or simply the fact that a lot of modern comics, including small press offerings, do absolutely nothing for me.
    There is little doubt that current and recent offerings in Beano and many American comics, are simply not of the same standard as those in the past – despite the awfulness of some Marvel titles in the ’70’s.
    Many older, meaning old, aged, fans want well drawn and written entertainment and for those of us who dislike war stories, there is little out today to entertain. Hence the return to comics of the past. Watkins, Bang, Baxendale and many others gave us wonderfully funny, clever, beautifully rendered humour strips, still appreciated by adults. The overall quality of AP pocket libraries outshines most modern efforts. Also, I’m of an age where charging around cons, trying to get a word with the pros is no great attraction. Done that, got the t-shirt.
    As for Electric Soup, what a great idea and what excellent boffo laughs! It’s just that the drug element in some strips, including ones you mention, are repellant to me. Whereas Billy Pope sends up sectarian idiocy, other strips make light of drug use.
    If you take away the small press offerings – which are a breeding ground from which talent will emerge, but at present means very little to a majority of fans – there is not much being produced in the UK compared to the huge amount of new material in France, Belgium, Italy, Japan, USA. Before deciding we are doing well here, just take a look at the monthly releases from Bonelli’s company in Italy.
    http://www.sergiobonelli.it/
    One of a number of comic companies.
    Even Diabolik has a new story, a reprint and a 2nd. reprint every month, 2 “grande” per annum and a series of soft and hardback collections. Plus the freebie comics for cons.
    You know my feelings re. sketches. Comics are comics, sketches are something else. Don’t fancy them, don’t collect them – unless it’s The Ghost Who Walks, that is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And this is part of the reason for starting this blog. My knowledge of European comics is very poor in comparison to my knowledge of US comics. So any comment that extends my knowledge of any comic is more than welcome.

      I can understand that the drug sub-culture of Electric Soup could put people off, but for me, it was the first time that I discovered a comic aspect of Scottish culture that wasn’t all tartan twee and shortbread or stuck us in kilts and had us all windswept and interesting as we stared moodily across the glens.

      I agree that most of the small press does appeal to a very narrow group of fans. And I am surprised to find myself in that group. But those comics are necessary as this is what we have left as the breeding ground for the professionals of tomorrow. And in fact, if it were not for this market, we would not have Frank Quitely drawing for Millarworld or Montynero now doing scripts for the big boys across the water.

      And talking of new material, do you ever get Aces Weekly. I would be interested in your thoughts on that weekly.

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    2. He’s right ya know. While we are told that “comics have always evolved” and that “kids in the 70’s wouldn’t have liked Comic Cuts from 1890”, both Comic Cuts and the comics of the 70’s demonstrated craftsmanship and dedication. Compare this to the new Thunderbirds comic, the strips are just re-told episodes of the TV show, made up of screenshots. A work experience lad could have thrown it together in a couple of afternoons.
      The Small Press is not a viable “replacement” for a proper industry, either. Almost everybody in it has day jobs, and many of the long, epic stories in it (including my own, no doubt) will probably never be finised, or even half finished, as people find themselves with less free time as they get older.
      And as for paid-for digital comics? Do me a favour! Webcomics, which started to get popular around 2001, and which are almost all readable for absolutely nothing, have killed them before they began. Admittedly 99% of webcomics are unreadable (including my own), but if somebody’s got a computer and a scanner already, the outlay to produce a webcomic can be well under £10.

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