British Comics Top-10 Issue-Count Chart – 2021b edition!

This week the science fiction weekly anthology 2000AD moves up another notch on the fabled British Comics Issue-Count Chart because it’s reached issue #2250.

(You can check out the previous version of the chart here.)

Two and a quarter thousand issues is quite a milestone (1.60934 kilometre-stone), but as regular readers will know, it’s still some way off the top spot. But then… perhaps that coveted top spot isn’t quite as far away as we’ve been conditioned to believe. For, you see, your loyal Uncle Rusty has recently made a Startling Realisation about Commando (the comic that refuses to wear underpants) that might just change the way you think about comics forever! It probably won’t do that, but it is interesting, I promise.

As before, the criteria for inclusion on the issue-count chart are as follows:

  1. 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. DC Thomson’s Secrets reached around 3000 issues between 1934 and 1992, but it was a story-paper with (as far as I can tell) zero comic-strips.
  2. 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-like content, it’s not recognisable as a comic-book as we know them today: most of the content was single-panel cartoons.
  3. Dates are cover-dates, where known. Cover-dates were originally meant to indicate to the newsagent when unsold copies should be removed from the shelves (and returned to the publisher, if there was a “sale-or-return” agreement). The comics would often go on-sale a week or more ahead of that cover-date, depending on the comic itself, the publisher’s recommendations, delivery times, newsagents’ whims, etc. As there are very few records of comics’ actual publication dates, we’re going by the cover-dates here.
  4. Comics that received a relaunch/reboot and reset their issue-number along the way count as two separate publications, 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 #6 on this list).
  5. 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 1999 to about 2015 the annual end-of-year issue was a special issue numbered to match the coming 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 #2250 is arguably really issue #2266, 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.)

(Treat the above chart to a click if you’d like to see the full-size version!)

So, in reverse order, the British comics with the highest issue-counts are…

10. The Wonder (1901)
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– Issues: 2010 (estimated)
– Launched: 1 Jun 1901
– Debunked: 18 Feb 1940
– Duration: 28 years, 8 months
– Issues per week: 0.99

Long-time readers of this blog might recall that The Wonder — and its stablemate The Penny Wonder — have been giving comics historians headaches for a very long time thanks to far too many renamings and mergings and the like. In fact, it was so confusing as to which comic was which that earlier versions of this Top Ten list actually featured The Penny Wonder because my research at the time led me to conclude that it had clocked up over two thousand issues: that was not the case, so the comic was subsequently bumped off the list in the next incarnation of the Top Ten. (It took some considerable work, but eventually I managed to untangle everything — mostly — and produce what I believe is a pretty accurate history of The Wonder and The Penny Wonder. There are still gaps in the info, so consequently the issue-count is estimated for this one, but I don’t expect it to be out by more than a couple of percentage points — not enough to affect its position on this list.)

warpl

9. War Picture Library
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC
– Issue-count: 2103
– Drafted: 1 Sep 1958
– Demobbed: 3 Dec 1984
– Duration: 26 years, 3 months
– Issues per week: 1.54

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 a lot of the stories on real settings and events. Many of its creators had fought in the war — they knew what they were talking about. (War Picture Library was relaunched a year after its demise by publisher Ron Phillips, with the issue numbers reset to 1: had they continued from the first run, War PL would have reached issue #2439, putting it in sixth position.)

filmfun

8. Film Fun
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press / Fleetway
– Issue-count: 2225
– Green-lit: 17 Jan 1920
– Wrap-party: 8 Sep 1962
– Duration: 42 years, 9 months
– Issues per week: 1.0

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 — sales were down to around 125,000 issues per week — so it was folded into Buster, which was barely out of nappies at that stage.

bunty

7. Bunty
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– Issue-count: 2249
– Entrance exam: 18 Jan 1958
– Expelled: 17 Feb 2001
– Duration: 43 years, 1 month
– Issues per week: 1.0

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 in my mid fifties 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.

2000ad

6. 2000AD
– Publisher: IPC / Fleetway / Egmont / Rebellion
– Issue-count: 2250 to date
– Launched into orbit: 26 Feb 1977
– Still flying high
– Duration: 44 years, 7 months to date
– Issues per week: 0.97

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 highly successful “Regened” special editions for 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 have been known to write for 2000AD so I’m biased towards it. I’m still right, though.)

illustratedchips2

5. Illustrated Chips
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– Issue-count: 2997
– Served up nice and hot: 6 Sep 1890
– Scraped into the bin: 12 Sep 1953
– Duration: 63 years, 1 month
– Issues per week: 0.91

The original Illustrated Chips was a test-run that lasted for 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 had a long life, 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?

comiccuts

4. Comic Cuts
– Publisher: Amalgamated Press
– Issue-count: 3006
– [Ctrl-C]: 17 May 1890
– [Ctrl-X]: 12 Sep 1953
– Duration: 63 years, 5 months
– Issues per week: 0.90

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.

dandy

3. The Dandy
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– Issues: 3610
– 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
– Issues per week: 0.92

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. As a kid I loved The Dandy, 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?

beano

2. The Beano
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– Issue-count: 4103 to date
– Invitations mailed: 30 Jul 1938
– Still keeping the neighbours awake
– Duration: 83 years, 1¾ months so far
– Issues per week: : 0.95

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 made up myself, 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.

commando

1. Commando
– Publisher: DC Thomson
– Issue-count: 5474 to date
– Waved good-bye to mother: Jul 1961
– Still serving
– Duration: 60 years, 2 months to date
– Issues per week: 1.74

The legendary comic Commando (only users of Apple computers are allowed to call it that — the rest of us have to called it “Ctrl-O”) was originally subtitled “War Stories in Pictures” but it’s now subtitled “For Action and Adventure.” It’s a digest-sized comic, 140mm x 175mm. 64 pages per issue, and its legendary status is not merely because of the vast number of issues published: the quality is almost always very high.

But there’s some controversy here, I think! Sure, that large number of issues is impressive, but I reckon that déjà vu must be a common affliction among long-time Commando readers because around 1518 issues have been reprints (these days, four issues are published every two weeks, and two of those four are reincarnations). That drops the number of unique issues of Commando to about 3956, so it could be argued that this comic should be in second place behind The Beano. I’m on that fence in that regard. Lots of long-running comics have reprinted a strip or two here and there, but reprinting an entire issue is quite a bit different.

What say you, readers? Should Commando be allowed to hold onto the #1 position?

While you’re pondering that, here’s something else to keep your brain ticking over… The ten most frequently-used nouns, adjectives and adverbs found in Commando‘s story-titles are as follows:

war (199), death (126), desert (102), battle (95), fighting (92),
hero (88), secret (87), ace (87), danger (86), man (83),

So any writer who intends to pitch a Commando story would do well to include at least a couple of those words. But you can’t call your story “War Death Desert Battle” because I’ve already bagsied that one. And “Secret Ace Danger Man” too.


Unless some enterprising publisher really steps up a few gears and starts churning out issues on a daily basis, the next change to the comic-count chart won’t happen until 2036 when 2000AD overtakes Illustrated Chips and moves into fifth position… and about nine weeks after that, it’ll move into fourth. It’ll remain in that position for a further twelve years before it surpasses The Dandy in 2048.

Going beyond that… If The Beano and Commando keep going at their current pace, I think it’s safe (and a little bit unsettling) to say that no one alive when this article is posted will still be around to see a change in the top two spots!

7 thoughts on “British Comics Top-10 Issue-Count Chart – 2021b edition!

  1. Leave Commando where it is, reprints are an accepted part of the industry and by your own logic when it comes to War picture library , the reprints are a new edition each time as they are given a new number and a slightly different cover.

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    1. Thanks, John! Can’t say that I’m able to follow your “your own logic” comment about War Picture Library because I never mentioned anything about reprints in that case, and I make it clear that I regard the Ron Philips era as a separate comic.

      If an issue of a comic is wholly reprinted (save administrative/editorial changes like a tweaked cover and a new issue number), and we count that as a new issue, then shouldn’t we apply that same approach to other publications? If one of my novels is reprinted in a different country or a different format, then it’s a new novel! By that logic, I have had over 100 novels published! Yay!

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      1. Hi Michael. I think John’s point about War Picture Library is that a huge number of issues are reprints. Around 1300 are reprints. The reprints came from War PL, Battle PL, Air Ace PL and War At Sea PL, but it raises the same question about the number of unique stories/issues.

        Also, I would disagree with you regarding the Rover continuity/numbering. I have always considered the 60s merger comics to be a continuation of the same comic. They didn’t reset the numbers, they just stopped numbering the comic. Rover became Rover and Adventure (1961), then Rover and Wizard (1963) (a quick look at one of the auctions on ebay for the DVD digital copies suggests that there were some issues just called Rover before the Wizard merger) and then reverted to just Rover again in 1969 until the end in 1973. It’s a personal choice but I just see 2481 issues of Rover.

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      2. Hi Edward,
        The Rover situation is a tricky one. It vexed me for quite a while before I concluded that it was better to see it as two separate publications precisely *because* the revamped/relaunched version (Rover and Adventure onwards) never used issue-numbers again (as far as I can tell). The Grand Comics Database (www.comics.org) numbers Rover and Adventure from #1, then carries on with subsequent numbers through its successive identities right up to the final issue (#626, 13 Jan 1973) when it’s merged with The Wizard.
        I always cross-check these things with a number of sources. Not many actually mention the publication, but of those that do — including the Comic Book Price Guide (https://www.comicpriceguide.co.uk/uk_comic.php?tc=roveradv) and the British Comics site (http://www.britishcomics.20m.com/rover.htm) — tend to agree with GCD. ComicVine treats them as two separate publications but for the second one it *doesn’t* use issue-numbers, just the cover-dates to differentiate between issues. Unfortunately, the British Library doesn’t have much more than skeleton info on the publication from the Rover and Adventure days so no help there.
        So… I expect that this one will be debated for some time to come, with opinions weighing as heavily as facts, but to me Rover and Adventure *feels* like a different publication to the pre-relaunched version, so for now that’s what I’m sticking with!
        (As for the DVD digitised copies on Ebay: I’ve never heard of DC Thomson officially licencing their material for such a purpose, so it seems to me that the sellers of those things are breaching copyright laws so we’d all do well to steer clear of them!)

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    2. Hi Michael. regarding the DVDs, yes they are unoffical, but I have now got to the point where i want the stories on my computer or a tablet to read. You can’t do that with a room full of comics. And I have most if not all of the comics on the DVDs so I would have scanned them myself. I don’t feel guilty when I have the comics anyway! I find it fantastic to be able to read a whole serial without having to get out loads of comics (I have taken the comics per the DVDs and split them by story).

      Regarding the Rover, I can see the logic either way. I have always just see the 1960s and 1970s as a continuation of the same comic. They kept coming back to the Rover solo title and it ended as Rover solo. I always was out on my own on a lot of things. This is just another! I was always a huge DC Thomson fan and have a lot of their comics and info from those comics.

      Just to throw a spanner in this one, when The Rover merged with The Wizard (new) they stopped numbering The Wizard. Rover didn’t last long in the title, but the text stories stayed right to the end. I can see similarities with the 60s Rovers but The Wizard is treated as one single run.

      I have too much time on my hands.

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  2. Demote Commando! A new issue number and some cosmetic changes do not make a new issue.
    Also, it gives you an excuse to calculate how long it will take Commando to overtake the Beano and regain first place, assuming both titles continue to be published at their current rate.
    And by “current rate,” I mean the new per week rate you’ll have to calculate for the Commando once reprint issues have been disqualified!

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