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GREAT BRITISH COMICS

A Review By: Bookmunch

David Thompson is a freelance writer and critic, who has contributed to a range of publications around the world. Essays, profiles and reviews covering a spectrum of art, music, film and other cultural concerns have appeared in The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Sight & Sound, Total Film, and New Statesman. David also reviews comic books and graphic novels for The Observer. The following review appeared on the Bookmunch web-site.

Bitesize: Lavish comix nostagia-fest…

In the wake of their impressive Graphic Novels and Manga anthologies, Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury turn their attention to the “ripping yarns and wizard wheezes” of British comics and comic strips. The result is an attractive and well-researched overview of the medium spanning more than a century, from James Sullivan’s The British Working Man (1875) and Dan Dare’s adventures in Eagle to Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland and other contemporary titles.

Among the featured strips that are fondly remembered – or, for some of us, half-remembered – are female spy Modesty Blaise, The Spider, a high-tech criminal mastermind with a gadget for every dicey situation, and The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire, a lavishly illustrated epic that appeared in the pages of Look and Learn throughout the 1970s. There’s also a rather neat timeline, showing the life-spans of key titles in context alongside the various social phenomena that the comics often reflected – from the three-day week and the Winter of Discontent to the arrival of television and the first broadcast of Doctor Who. It’s a simple visual device, but one that adds to the seductive retrospection on offer.

Any Cop?: Despite the inclusion of more recent offerings, Great British Comics will appeal primarily as a nostalgia-fest for readers of a certain age - or, given the enormous span of the book, readers of certain ages. But that’s no great criticism and there’s plenty of background information and rarely seen material to bring a warm glow to those of us who misspent our youth poring over many of the pages reproduced here. And it’s hard to think of another volume that features Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean alongside Curly Wee and the Fat Slags.

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