The British Comics Top-11 Longevity Chart!

Checking back over this site yesterday I spotted an error… I’d long believed that the British humour comic Buster had lasted 2080 issues: the same number of issues that the science fiction anthology comic 2000AD reaches today (9 May 2018). So I was all prepared to update my British Comics Longevity Chart. But it turns out that Buster only lasted 1902 issues (I don’t know how I got that wrong, but I suspect poor quality-control by the researcher, who was me). So even though there’s now no pressing need to update the chart, I did so anyway…

Now, there’s some debate as to what actually constitutes a comic-book. Does Cheeky Weekly count? Yes, absolutely — it’s packed with comic-strips! What about the romance title Secrets and Flame, which lasted 3000 issues from 1934 to 1992? No, because it had no comic-strips as far as I can tell. How about Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal (2113 issues, from 1867 to 1907)? We know that one definitely contained comic-strips because it’s the home of Ally Sloper, the first proper comic-strip character. Well, no, I’ve chosen not to include Judy because it’s not recognisably a comic as we know them today. (Others on this list are on the edge, but in my judgement they have enough comic-strip content to pass.)

(Update 20180604: A minor clarification… only regular issues of the comics are counted, otherwise it becomes too confusing… If we start including summer specials then what about annuals? Tie-in poster magazines? One-off issues? Spin-offs? Should we count the issues of the Bunty Picture Library for Girls with the rest of the issues of Bunty? No, best to keep it simple!)

 

ukcomicschart20180508s
(You can find a large, clear, easy-to-read version of the chart here.)

So, in reverse order for no reason other than tradition, the top eleven longest-lasting British comics are…

2000ad11. 2000AD
– Publisher: IPC / Fleetway / Egmont / Rebellion
– 2080 issues
– Launched into orbit: 26 Feb 1977
– Still flying high

I’ve written more about 2000AD than about any other comic, if not here on this blog, then certainly elsewhere in my previous blogging careers. It’s the birthplace of Judge Dredd, Halo Jones, Sláine, Nemesis the Warlock, Rogue Trooper and countless other great characters. Originally aimed at pre-teen boys, the comic has very definitely “grown up” over the years. It’s still providing the galaxy with absolutely classic strips, though, and I’d argue that 2000AD is the single most influential and important British comic book ever published, even moreso than Eagle. (Full disclosure — also a thinly-disguised boast — I actually write for 2000AD so I’m biased towards it. I’m still right, though.)

warpl10. War Picture Library
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC
– 2103 issues
– Drafted: 1 Sep 1958
– Demobbed: 3 Dec 1984

This one mostly passed me by, even though I was around for much of its life. Though rare now, “digest-sized” Picture Library comics were plentiful back in the 1960s and 1970s. Dozens of ’em, there were, usually about 64 pages each, a complete story per issue, two or three panels per page. War Picture Library was one of the first of its kind, a trail-blazer that paved the way for the much-better-known Commando. It was also one of the first post-WWII comics to focus heavily on accuracy, basing many of the stories on real settings and events. Many of its creators had fought in the war — they knew what they were talking about.

pennywonder9. The Penny Wonder
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– 2175 issues
– Account opened: 10 Jan 1912
– Declared bankrupt: 12 Sep 1953

A couple of years ago when I was attempting to compile a list of every British comic ever published, The Penny Wonder nearly drove me crazy. Thanks to renamings and relaunchings and mergers with other titles, it took me months to decipher its history. Even now, I’m not sure I’ve actually managed to successfully do so and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that I’ve got everything wrong. Anyway… The Penny Wonder was one of those 8-page tabloid-sized comics that were all the rage a hundred years ago (see my recent post on Merry & Bright). It was later renamed The Wonder because the price had to go up, then The Halfpenny Wonder when the prices dropped again, and eventually became The Funny Wonder when they presumably gave up altogether on the silly idea of incorporating the price into the title (see also: The Ha’penny Marvel, Horner’s Penny Stories, um… Buck Rogers… and of course the adventures of that well-known Thai superhero Baht-man). My investigation suggests that in 1940 it absorbed an entirely different long-running comic that was also called The Wonder (AKA The Jester, The Jolly Jester and a few other titles), but please don’t hold me to that.

filmfun8. Film Fun
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press / Fleetway
– 2225 issues
– Green-lit: 17 Jan 1920
– Wrap-party: 8 Sep 1962

Have to admit, I’m surprised that Film Fun lasted as long as it did given that it had little original material. Actually, I should clarify that: it had original material but not original characters. Most of the strips were based on well-known movie franchises, particularly the matinee comedies: Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, George Formby and the like, as well as more serious stuff like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (because singing cowboys always come across so well in comic-strip form). Along the way Film Fun gobbled up Illustrated Chips (see below), but eventually, at the age of forty-two, it was deemed to be failing — selling a mere 125,000 issues per week — so it was folded into Buster, which was barely out of nappies at that stage.

bunty7. Bunty
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 2249 issues
– Entrance exam: 18 Jan 1958
– Expelled: 17 Feb 2001

The only “girls'” comic to make it into the top eleven. Bunty is definitely part of mainstream culture, being well-known not only to the girls who read it, but also to their brothers who probably read it too but swore the girls to silence in case their friends found out. (What the hell, I’m fifty-two now: I can cope with being teased for reading girls’ comics. Yes, I read Bunty, and Mandy, and June and Debbie and Spellbound and Misty and every other comic that came into the house. I’m not ashamed!) Bunty was the home of the Four Marys, who all lived in the same boarding school and played hockey or something. I read my sisters’ comics: that doesn’t necessarily mean I remember them very clearly. But I recall enough to know that girls’ comics seemed to be obsessed with boarding schools, orphans, ballet, kidnappers and ponies. Not all in the same story, though, which is a shame because that would be a classic. Collectors should note that the cut-out dolls on the back pages mean that intact back-issues of Bunty are a fair bit harder to find than they would have been otherwise. I hope all those scissor-happy readers had enough fun to justify all the heartache they’re still giving us collectors.

rover6. The Rover
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 2481 issues
– Brought home in a box with holes in the lid: 4 Mar 1922
– Sent away to live on a farm: 20 Jan 1973

Initially a story-paper (packed with thrilling yarns about smugglers, school bullies, policemen on bicycles, and talented but impoverished young sports hopefuls), The Rover only introduced comic-strips when it absorbed Adventure in 1961, so it’s debatable whether it should even appear on this list because it wasn’t a comic for all of its 2481 issues. Regardless, The Rover was one of D.C. Thomson’s “Big Five” titles, along with The Wizard, Adventure, Hotspur & The Skipper. To give you young folks an indication of how much the world has changed since The Rover was launched in 1922, early issues boasted that “Two Real Photos” would be given away with each copy. Apparently actual photographs were so new at the time that there was no need to specify what they were photos of, just as long as they were photos.

illustratedchips25. Illustrated Chips
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– 2997 issues
– Served up nice and hot: 6 Sep 1890
– Scraped into the bin: 12 Sep 1953

The original Illustrated Chips was a test-run that lasted only six issues (26 July 1890 to 30 August 1890), but the relaunch a week later was a massive success. Chips trounced the competition in terms of quality, and though it lasted pretty well, it failed to move with the times: the final issue looks like it could have been plucked from almost any stage in the previous sixty-three years. One of its few concessions to progress was the title: the “Illustrated” part was always pretty small, but it disappeared entirely in 1952, about a year before the comic was gobbled up by Film Fun… three issues shy of the 3000 mark – how cruel is that?

comiccuts4. Comic Cuts
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– 3006 issues
– [Ctrl-C]: 17 May 1890
– [Ctrl-X]: 12 Sep 1953

One of the world’s most famous vintage comics, and occasionally cited as the first “proper” comic, which it wasn’t (and sorry, American readers, but The Yellow Kid wasn’t the first comic either), Comic Cuts is the oldest title on this list, predating the test-run of Illustrated Chips by two months. It was originally a compilation of humorous cartoons culled from US publications — hence the title — but soon began printing original material. It’s quite likely that this publication is the source of the word “comic” when we use it in relation to books of what Scott McCloud termed “Sequential Art.” Cancelled on the same day as its long-time rival Illustrated Chips in what comic-book historians don’t refer to as “The Saturday of Sorrow and Shame” but really ought to.

dandy3. The Dandy
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 3610 issues
– Arrived in a burst of style and colour: 4 Dec 1937
– Took to its bed suffering from extreme melancholia: 4 Dec 2012

Poor old Korky the Cat, struck down on his 75th birthday! That’s a shameful way to treat a character who was not only older than Superman by six months, but he also survived both WWII and the gradual dissolution of the British Empire. The Dandy had a brief afterlife as an on-line comic, but it just wasn’t the same. I loved The Dandy as a kid, with Desperate Dan being a particular favourite. I always wondered why Dan’s Aunt Aggie used to bake the cow’s horns into the pie. Surely that was just making more work for both of them?

beano2. The Beano
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 3934 issues
– Invitations mailed: 30 Jul 1938
– Still keeping the neighbours awake

During WWII, when paper was scarce, The Beano and The Dandy alternated weeks, which is one possible reason why so many comics fans struggle to remember which comic contained which characters. The general rule when it comes to differentiating them, which I’ve just made up, is this: The Beano was naughtier (Dennis the Menace, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx and that lot) while The Dandy was sillier (Corporal Clott, Keyhole Kate, Bananaman). But that’s just my view — other opinions are available! My absolute favourite Beano character was Billy Whizz. I was never sure whether those lines sticking out from his forehead were meant to be his hair, or some sort of antennae, but I didn’t care: he could run really fast and that was good enough for me.

commando1. Commando
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 5122 issues
– Waved good-bye to mother: Jul 1961
– Still serving

Commando was originally subtitled “War Stories in Pictures” but it’s now subtitled “For Action and Adventure” (which is a bit of a side-step from the old battle-cry of “For King and Country”). It’s a digest-sized comic, 140mm x 175mm. 64 pages per issues, two issues per week, and its legendary status is not merely because of the vast number of issues published: the quality is rarely anything but top-notch. That large number of issues means that it’s not easy to collect a complete set: I don’t think I know anyone who’s managed to achieve that. (I have about three issues, I think, so I’ve still got a way to go.) Little-known-or-cared-about fact: a complete set of Commando comics laid out end-to-end would stretch for 896.35 metres, or over half a mile. As each issue is approximately 4mm thick, a stack of that complete set would be 20.488 metres tall — over 67 feet, so if you do have a full set I recommend against storing them like that.

If Commando were to cease publication today and The Beano kept going at its current rate, Commando would still hold the number 1 spot until February 2042.

If for some reason The Beano doesn’t make it, then 2000AD would overtake Commando sometime in 2078, when I’m 112 years old. By then, I will probably have stopped collecting comics. But do please check back in sixty or so years, just in case I’m still here.

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6 thoughts on “The British Comics Top-11 Longevity Chart!

  1. I like the article but it’s needs an update. Aside from the weeklies for 2000ad, there were the Christmas specials prog 2000 till a few years ago when they were included in the regular prog run after the year 2015. Makes it in the top 10.

    Like

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