Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Oh my poor poor artform (continued)

I agree the Guardian's week of comics is fun and nostalgic and we should enjoy it for what it is. The factual inaccuracies and historical ignorance of a subject that we the comics cognoscenti know so well is only to be expected. In the corrections column you'll find many articles get many subjects wrong, and that's in instances where the facts are actually well documented. In the case of comics, where does our history lie, except scattered in a very few academic books (we get one a decade if we're lucky) and in fanzines.

Wikipedia holds some information about some comics history, but you already have to know what you're looking for. A comprehensive joined-up history of comics is impossible to find, and where would you begin?

Those of us who were raised on and then worked in British comics are regularly frustrated to realise that our comics remain virtually unknown outside of our tiny island. With the exception of the comics talent Brain Drain that began in the 80s, and which has resulted in 75% of Brits earning a living in comics doing so on American money, our strips have rarely if ever travelled.

Which means the Americans have heard of only one Dennis The Menace, the wrong one, and are aware of Judge Dredd as a naff movie and a short lived series of comics that no-one bought in the 80s. Talk to anyone in Spain, Norway, France or anywhere else they hold comic festivals that we occasionally get invited to and you'll find they've heard of random and bizarre things from Brit comic history (The Trigan Empire, Dan Dare and the IPC girls strips seem to have been very big in Norway in the 1970s) but never anything you want them to have heard of, like The Bash Street Kids.

Talking of factual inaccuracy, I was brought into schools last year when, at the 11th hour, teachers on the Media Studies course realised comics and graphic novels were part of a module, so I had to give the kids a quick catch up. I saw the teachers notes, provided by the exam board. They were riddled with inaccuracies, including attributing drawings to the wrong artists, attributing characters to the wrong publishers, getting comics dates out by decades, and largely skimming over Brit comics. Given that they had about 5 pages to cover the entire history of comics this is hardly surprising.

And the task the pupils had to perform to show their understanding of comics was to design a front cover. Pathetic. That's like showing you understand car mechanics by designing a number plate. Oh my poor poor beloved artform, what does your future hold?

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