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A History of Comics 3

The decline of comics in Britain paralleled the rise of television. Colour television arrived in Britain in 1969 and its relative inexpensiveness and ease of access posed a real problem to publishers.

One response was to climb on the bandwagon. TV Century 21 was produced to capitalise upon the huge success of the television shows produced by Gerry Anderson such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. TV21, as it became known, was designed like a weekly newspaper and included only strips related to Anderson's TV shows. Polystyle Publications published a TV-related comic for young children called TV Comic, followed by Countdown (later known as TV Action). Boys’ titles such as Shoot, Scorcher and Score made the most of football’s arrival on television too. In fact, any comics which didn't respond to television in this way suffered and began to close, merging together in the style of the British comics market.

In 1972, Marvel UK began reprinting American superhero strips which were so popular that the publisher began generating home-produced original material, such as Captain Britain. Dr Who Weekly, launched in 1979, was also made by Marvel UK.

The mid-1970s heralded the arrival of the more action-orientated Warlord, published by DC Thomson. IPC Magazines Ltd, responded with the darker Battle Picture Weekly, followed soon afterwards by Action, which was so grim that it courted controversy and was eventually merged with Battle. 2000 AD, launched in 1977 by IPC, quickly replaced it and found a niche with teenage and even adult readers. In 1982, the trend to a grimmer tone of story continued: The Eagle was relaunched, including photo-strips, still with Dan Dare as the lead story, but with a much darker and more grisly content.

Around this time, Dez Skinn, former head of Marvel UK, founded and edited Warrior, which featured key works by Alan Moore. Known to some as the ‘British Stan Lee,’ Skinn was an influential figure and brought Moore’s 'Marvelman' and 'V for Vendetta' strips to Warrior, turning it into a ‘superhero comic for adults’. Unfortunately, Warrior ran into copyright problems and closed.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the continuing rise of television and the advent of computer video games, the comics market declined even further, not ceasing its downward trend until the new century. But comics remain as part of the culture. The recent multi-billion pound resurgence of interest in Marvel’s superheroes, followed closely by DC’s iconic characters, has resulted in an ongoing and highly successful transition to the big screen.

Not bad for a medium that started off as a cheaply-produced offcast over a hundred years ago.


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