2000AD — the legendary British Science Fiction anthology comic — has now reached issue 2176, which means that it’s time for me to fulfil the Ancient Prophecy I made in the last version of the issue-count chart and provide an updated edition. (You’ll possibly have spotted that I’ve stopped describing these things as Longevity Charts because that’s not what they are. Also, I’m pretty sure that “Longevity” is a character from Cats.)
However, there’s more happening this time around than just one comic moving up a notch. Oh yes! You see, there has been a Recent Startling Discovery!
Last time, 2000AD entered the chart when it knocked War Picture Library out of position #10. But I have since discovered that my data on the previous #9 holder — The Penny Wonder — was incorrect. In my defence, I did say at the time that that particular comic was a blinkin’ nightmare to try to unravel. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that I’ve got everything wrong,” quoth I. Well, I hadn’t quite got everything wrong, but a fair bit of it, yes. If you read the article about my intricate investigations into The Penny Wonder you’ll see that my ultimate conclusion was that it actually only reached 1760 issues, not 2175, so it should never have been on the Top-10 list in the first place. With The Penny Wonder now gone, War Picture Library is back on the list!
(You can check out the previous version of the chart here, but the one before that — the Top-11 — has been purged because it’s now way out of date. Wikipedia still links to it, though… would someone be a pal and correct that for me, please?)
The criteria for inclusion on the chart are as follows:
- The publication must be primarily a comic, or a fiction-heavy publication that has in its lifetime published what I judge to be a significant amount of comic-strip content. So although The Sunday Post has been publishing The Broons and Oor Wullie since 1936, it’s not a comic.
- Likewise, Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal (2113 issues, from 1867 to 1907) isn’t included because although it did contain a lot of comic-strip content, it’s not recognisable as a comic-book as we know them today: most of the content was single-panel cartoons.
- Comics that received a relaunch/reboot and reset their issue-number along the way count as two separate comics, such as The Hotspur which clocked up 1197 issues and its second incarnation, The New Hotspur, which lasted for 1110 issues. If it hadn’t reset the issue numbers, I’d have considered it a single comic of 2307 issues (which would have put it at #7 on this list).
- Only regular issues are included in the count: summer specials and annuals are exempt. This gets a little awkward with 2000AD, because from the year 2000 to about 2015 the annual end-of-year issue was a special issue numbered to match the year. Such specials were often used to launch new serials, so those issues kind of count as both special issues and regular issues. Meaning that 2000AD issue #2176 is arguably really issue #2192, or thereabouts. (In case you’re wondering: yes, that does mean that issue numbers between 2000 and 2015 were duplicated when the regular comic caught up with them!)
So, in reverse order because it’d be weird to do it any other way, the British comics with the highest issue-counts are…
10. War Picture Library
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC
– 2103 issues
– Drafted: 1 Sep 1958
– Demobbed: 3 Dec 1984
– Duration: 26 years, 3 months
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.
– Publisher: IPC / Fleetway / Egmont / Rebellion
– 2176 issues to date
– Launched into orbit: 26 Feb 1977
– Still flying high
– Duration: 43 years, 1 month so far
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, Strontium Dog, Kingdom, Rogue Trooper, Proteus Vex and countless other great characters. Originally aimed at pre-teen boys, the comic has grown up over the years and is now aimed squarely at adults — however, in recent years we’ve seen the publication of some “Regened” special editions aimed at readers of all ages. There’s no argument that 2000AD is one of the most influential and important British comic books ever published. (Full disclosure: I actually write for 2000AD so I’m biased towards it. I’m still right, though.)
8. Film Fun
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press / Fleetway
– 2225 issues
– Green-lit: 17 Jan 1920
– Wrap-party: 8 Sep 1962
– Duration: 42 years, 9 months
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.
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 2249 issues
– Entrance exam: 18 Jan 1958
– Expelled: 17 Feb 2001
– Duration: 43 years, 1 month
The only “girls'” comic to make it into the top ten. 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-four 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.
6. 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
– Duration: 50 years, 11 months
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.
5. Illustrated Chips
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– 2997 issues
– Served up nice and hot: 6 Sep 1890
– Scraped into the bin: 12 Sep 1953
– Duration: 63 years, 1 month
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?
4. Comic Cuts
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– 3006 issues
– [Ctrl-C]: 17 May 1890
– [Ctrl-X]: 12 Sep 1953
– Duration: 63 years, 5 months
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 Illustrated Chips and The Penny Wonder in what comic-book historians don’t refer to as “The Saturday of Sorrow and Shame” but really ought to.
3. 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
– Duration: 75 years exactly
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?
2. The Beano
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 4029 issues to date
– Invitations mailed: 30 Jul 1938
– Still keeping the neighbours awake
– Duration: 81 years, 8 months so far
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.
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– 5322 issues to date
– Waved good-bye to mother: Jul 1961
– Still serving
– Duration: 58 years, 9 months to date
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 is impressive, but — and I hate to rain on anyone’s victory parade — a lot of the issues are reprints. Fact: a complete set of Commando comics laid out end-to-end would stretch for 931.35 metres, or over half a mile. As each issue is approximately 4mm thick, a stack of that complete set would be 21.28 metres tall — almost 70 feet — so if you do own a full set I recommend against storing them like that.
If 2000AD keeps going it’ll overtake Film Fun and move into eighth position in about a year’s time… Check back then for the 2021 edition!
Note to Tharg: If you were to publish a new issue of 2000AD every single day instead of only once a week, the prog would overtake Commando and take the top spot in around twelve years. (As long as Commando didn’t also increase its publication schedule, of course.) That has to be worth a shot, right?