Read part one here.
The 60’s and 70’s herald the birth of the British underground comic movement, which in particular reflected the rebellious and political sensitivity’s of the era. Out of this turbulent time came such new comics as Oz and Nasty Tales, Oz most notably became a counter culture phenomenon and caused immense controversy with post war Britain. Significantly due to the obscenity and immensely non-politically correct content for the era, this lead to very public trials, convictions and acquittals.
Oz as we most remember it was actually a second incarnation of an Australian satirical humour magazine published between 1963–69. The UK based incarnation was first published in early 1967 after Richard Neville, Martin Sharp and Jim Anderson moved to the UK the year previous. Later joined by the now British magazine publisher and philanthropist, Felix Dennis, the founder of Dennis publishing and the Lads magazine ‘Maxim’. Noted contributors include fellow Australian Germaine Greer, photographer Robert Whitaker, artist and filmmaker Philippe Mora. Along with journalists and cartoonists such as Lillian Roxon, Micheal Leunig, Angelo Quattrocchi and David Widgery.
Those names alone will to many people personify why Oz so enrage the British conservative establishment, penning many a range of hard hitting left-field stories such as a heavy involvement in the anti-war movement and highly critical coverage of the war in Vietnam. Oz also delved into discussions on then taboo topics such as sex, drugs and non-conforming lifestyles, it this wasn’t enough they would cover contentious political stories such as executions within communist society and torture in Greek prisons.
With the move to the UK, Martin Sharp was introduced to new print methods and the possibilities offered to him by offset printing, and such stocks as fluorescent inks and metallic’s foils. These’s stocks were perfect for Sharps artistic flare at creating psychedelic and thought provoking artwork, something Sharp and Oz became renown for. Oz also pioneered the use of magazine pullout posters and the wrap around within the UK publishing industry; indeed they become much sort after collector’s items then and to this day.
Applauded as “arguably the greatest achievement of the British underground press”, edition 16 ‘Magic Theatre’ was a stunning all-graphic publication overseen by Martin Sharp along with artist and director Philippe Mora.
Oz as a publication ceased as of 1973, primarily believed to be the publication being perceived as out of touch with the changes in society after the editorial staffs acquittal.
Not to be confused with the American ‘Action comic’ in which introduced the man of steel himself (Superman if you didn’t know), Action was a British weekly boys comic book published by IPC Magazines in 1976. Despite its amazingly short lifespan of February 1976 until November 1977, Action was highly influential on British comics and even British culture at the time, ultimately becoming the direct forerunner of the popular long running 2000 AD.
Action had the misfortune to be conceived in the era of evangelical nutters such as Mary Whitehouse and groups such as D.O.V.E. (Delegates Opposing Violent Education), who saw it as there mission to clean up the morals portrayed within the British media which they saw as un-Christian without actually reading or viewing such media in the intended context. A contemporary example would be labour’s MP Keith Vaz, a movement that ultimately resulted in the withdrawal of Action in October 1976 only for it to return the following month more toned down and confirming, ultimately leading to its demise.
The graphical style of Action remained the same through out the comic’s lifespan, with only the premise changing. Action reflected the militarist and retro stencil style, most often identified with Americana sci-fi stencilling such as that from the 1950s sci-fi comics along with the real world militaristic styling of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Before the initial withdrawal of Action, the comic’s style reflected the gritty nature along with the controversial nature of the content, such as issue 36 which reflected the Russian front during World War 2. The front cover of issue 36 displays both the blood red flag of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, with the German panzer commander character ‘Kurt Hellman’ in the foreground standing by two dead soldiers. If this wasn’t enough, on the blood red backdrop it reads “Its cold-blooded murder on the Russian front… And HELLMAN is the coldest of all”. Not really surprising it was the last of the first incarnation of Action, being banned in 1976 by the self appointed moral squad.
Published weekly, 2000 AD is a British science fiction-oriented comic anthology, 2000 AD is one of only a few comics to surpass 1,500 issues, due in part to the weekly publication schedule. Originally conceived and published by IPC Magazines in 1977, 2000 AD has been and continues to be the proving ground for internationally renowned artists and writers such as Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot, Grant Morrison, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon.
Unlike its predecessor ‘Action’ and other weekly publications of the era, 2000 AD was based on a 5 to 6 Page strip format (compared to the traditional 3 page format). Not only did this provide 2000 AD artists a great scope and creativity to produce yet unseen layouts, it also provided the writers the potential to develop their characters and scenarios.
2000 AD went through many graphical transitions over the years; the first graphical style associated with the earlier issues of 2000 AD is comparable to those of comics of the same era such as the Beano. Perhaps the best was to describe the style would be to compare it to the clip art and word art of 90’s publishing software, this is not to say there wasn’t artistic flare in the early issues, the hand drawn characters were rather detailed and refined for the time.
2000 AD was one of the rare publications to not adhere to a strict format per year or decade, although in the earlier issues they tended to use the same graphical style yet improving each time, they did vary there formats and layout to suit there stories rather than the other way round. For example in issue 78 (re-print banned) the cover resembles more a newspaper than a comic, reflecting the nature of the story within.
The late 80’s saw the introduction of a more refined, edgy and a more adult artwork style leading up to the first regular glossy cover issue in 1988. From this point onwards 2000 AD’s style would continue to evolve and be influenced by worldwide situations and cultures, such as the vibrant first all colour issue released in 1991. This issue is a great example of the successful fusion of the artistic flares from such country’s as the UK, USA and Japan, a fantastic selection of gritty atmospherics, bold tonal portraits and vibrant manga-esq cityscapes.
2000 and beyond…
Since the turn of the millennium there has been a somewhat mini revival in the British market, however there is no great sign of growth within the physical markets circulation, due in part to many new creations opting to go online. Despite this the childhood favourite, The Dandy and The Beano remain strong and continue to evolve. Other than the Dandy and the Beano, the only significant anthology to remain and prosper is 2000 AD, the home of Judge Dredd (yep, the very same role Sly Stallone butchered). Since being purchased by Rebellion (of gaming fame, think AVP), 2000 AD have released more adaptions and trade paperbacks such as complete reprints and publications dedicated solely to a character (Judge Dredd Magazine).
There has also been an increase in British graphic novels, which had been previously shunned in British society as childish. The Japanese’s comic style known as manga has been a huge success in Britain as with the rest of the western culture, not only can find Japanese’s and English translated manga comics, but there are also home-grown manga comics too.
Thanks to the relatively cheap powerful publishing software now available (Many which are shared illegally), fanzine publications have proved popular all over the UK, a fanzine is a non professional publications created by fans ‘fanatics’ of a particular genre such as science fiction. Due to their nature, fanzines tend to have a low and exclusive circulation however with methods ever improving, there are immense prospects for this niche.