From the archive: a century’s worth of comics remembered, 1974

From the archive: a century’s worth of comics remembered, 1974

The Observer Magazine celebrated ‘A century of comic relief’ for the issue of 22 December 1974, with Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat on the cover. Korky, wrote Ena Kendall, ‘has survived more than nine feline lives in Dandy’. And then some.

It was 100 years since Funny Folks, the first comic, appeared in 1874, ‘a British invention despite the American belief that they were the first in the funnies field’, writes Kendall, before admitting ‘the American comic is a more sophisticated piece of work’. The British ‘prefer the recipe as before, and before, and before’.

Victorian children had no money to spend, so there was no point in a children’s publication and it wasn’t until about 1904 when comics began to be directed at them and ‘the year 1914 was dazzled by The Rainbow, with Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys’. The humour, Kendall noted, ‘mostly in the banana-skin, custard pie, bang, thump and slurp tradition, is unchanging’. And so were the strict conventions of the drawings: ‘Christmas puddings must be round, like cannon balls… sausages protrude from floury peaks of mashed potato. School teachers always appear in cap and gown, burglars in regulation striped jumpers and black masks.’ Not forgetting its own particular slapstick lexicon – ‘Gloomph! Yikes! Blat! Aargh! Bloikle!’

‘Female comic characters are undeniably plain,’ Kendall wrote, ‘usually peculiar and shorter-lived than the males,’ though there is mention of the intriguing Valda who bathed in the Fire of Life in Mandy from 1969, Britain’s answer to Supergirl.

While ‘the French devote learned societies to the study of comics and the Americans have their Academy of the Comic Book Arts,’ wrote Kendall, ‘the British tend to discard comics with childhood’.

But there was a sense that comics were becoming more international: ‘The English comic Laurel and Hardy is a continuation under licence of an American original, scripted in London, drawn in Barcelona, printed in Poland and issued in Italy as Stanlio e Ollio.’ Yowza!

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