As UK comics institution The Beano celebrates it’s 80th birthday, and 2000 AD it’s 40th last year, the subject of ‘the state of British comics’ has become a real hot button issue online. As people lament the lack of newsstand presence for British comics and claim the the UK comics scene is in decline, we wholeheartedly disagree (at least with the latter). So we’ve decided to run down 10 of our favourite British comics which we think prove that the UK comics scene has never been more vibrant and diverse – you just have to know where to look for them!
#1. The Phoenix (David Fickling Books)
The young upstart in the world of British weekly comics, The Phoenix continues the spirit of the Beano, The Dandy and Whizzer and Chips but with a new modern sense of fun and adventure. The home of some the UK’s funniest comic creators such as Jamie Smart, Jess Bradley, Adam Murphy, Zack Simmons Hern and the kings of kickstarter The Etherington Brothers (be sure to check out their own book like Monkey Nuts and Long Gone Don if you like what you see) as well as as many many more. So if you wish kids comics were more than just a marketing plan for a trashy TV programme and begrudge buying something for your kids with a plastic toy stuck to the front and no actual comic content in the pages, then The Phoenix is the book for you.
#2 Charley’s War (Rebellion)
Theres a rich tradition of great British war comics with the likes of Commando and Battle. And while Charley’s certainly follows in that rich tradition it also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. But what else would you expect from 2000 AD legend Pat Mills. His tale of a 16 year old volunteer in the trenches of World War One is both a rip roaring romp and a superb commentary on the nature of war, and even looks at it from both sides of the trenches. Brought to life with exceptional artwork from Joe Colquhon, Charley’s War is a modern masterpiece that should be required reading for comics fans and non-comics fans alike.
3. Rok of the Reds (BHP Comics)
Essentially this is Roy of the Rovers but with aliens for strikers, as Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner and long time ally Alan Grant mix sci-fi and soccer in ways which you never thought possible. When alien villain Rok crash lands on earth he assumes the form of bad boy footballer Kyle Dixon but in attempting to fit in in he unleashes Kyle squandered potential. Cue last minute winners, unexpected cup runs and alien vigilante bounty hunters. With all your favourite sports comics and sci-fi tropes in one place, Rok of the Reds is a must for kids of all ages!
Rok of the Reds volume 1 is available from BHP Comics
#4 Steve Jackson’s The Trolltooth Wars
Adapted from Steve Jackson’s novel – which was part of the legendary Fighting Fantasy brand that any self respecting geek in the 1980s will have grown up loving – writer PJ Montgomery and artist Gavin Mitchell have managed to perfectly capture the excitement and scale of this epic novel as well as bringing it bang up to date with a super slick modern presentation. Packed full of every kid of fantasy trope and cliche you could ever ask for, from orcs and trolls attacking a caravan, to warring wizards and heroic quests, through to the dramatic reveal of the infamous Warlock of Firetop Mountain, this is a sublime piece of modern fantasy fiction that bring to life this classic book for a new generation to enjoy in a long awaited graphic novel version!
#5 Widdershins (Kate Ashwin Comics)
Set in a fictional Yorkshire town that is the centre of magic for the whole of England, Kate Ashwin’s webcomic follow the antics of the Barber family as they attempt to guard the town from a group of malevolent spirits based on the seven deadly sins. With each volume focusing on a different family member, as well as stretching across different time periods and locales, this is a highly ambitious and very accomplished collection of stories that has the perfect balance of quaint English charm alongside the magical tradition of Harry Potter or the Narnia stories. Kate updates the story twice weekly on her website and Kickstarts printed volumes, so be sure to catch up on the previous volumes as soon as you can!
#6 Giant Days (Boom! Studios)
Although released by a US publisher, John Allisons trio of uni misfits – Daisy, Susan and Esther are quintessentially British. Having developed from being a quirky one shot that was a break from his main series Bad Machinary, it has become Allison’s main focus as his tale of friendship and fun in your formative years sees these three first years thrown together in freshers week only grow and develop into more interesting people as a result. They fall out, fall in love and get up to all kinds of adventures, just like in real life. And all these are told with Allison’s sparkling dialogue and sublime supporting cast, which makes every issue a quotable and re-readable gem!
#7 Hilda And The Bird Parade (Flying EYE Books)
With an animated series coming very soon on Netflix, Luke Pearson’s tale of a young girl and her adventures with fantastical creatures in the fictional city of Trollberg is set to go from being comics’ best keep secret to a global all ages smash hit. With the Scandi vibes of the Moomins and the fun and adventure of Asterisk, the Hilda adventures are a timeless and endlessly entertaining series of fun and fantasy. Of the books available we’ve picked The Bird Parade which sees Hilda befriends a mischievous bird, but all the volumes and equally excellent.
#8 Porcelain: ivory Tower (Improper Books)
From humble beginnings, Benjamin Read and Christian Wildgoose’s epic trilogy follows the life of Girl, (who becomes Woman and latterly Mother), who has the ability to build porcelain automatons which she magically brings to life. Inevitably this brings her into conflict with those who want to use her creations for war and result in devastating consequences for her and her family. Set in a steampunk-esque Victorian world, Porcelain is part fairytale, part epic fantasy series, and Read’s intricate and emotional story is brought to life by artist Christian Wildgoose, whose immaculately crafted style has seen him catapulted into the mainstream of working for DC comics. The latest instalment Ivory Tower sees Mother battle invaders who wish to attack her citadel and end her self-imposed exile, while her family attempt to break out of her control.
#9 Dirty Rotten Comics (Throwaway Press)
The UK’s arthouse comic scene is the thriving heart of the small press community with their mix of quirky stories and hand made ‘zines’. It can be a difficult scene to break into, but thanks to festivals like ELCAF and anthologies like Dirty Rotten Comics new readers are able to discover this most vibrant of UK comics cliques. Thanks to an open door submission policy, DRC gives readers a perfect snapshot of the UK arthouse comics scene every quarter and has brought us work by standouts like Matthew Dooley, Josh Hicks, Russell Olson, Kathryn Briggs, Emily Rose Lambert and many more. By not relying on the same creators every issue, DRC gives you an amazing look at the vibrancy and diversity of the scene, and even if every strip is not quite right for you, then it will introduce you to plenty who are.
10. The Small Press (Various)
A bit of a broad final choice here, but thanks to the rise of the internet and the fall of print prices, the UK’s self publishing scene (which is what we mean when we say ‘small press’) has never been more vibrant. And it’s so much more than just hand stapled zines and quirky auto-biographical comics. With professional quality productions values and complex and intricate stories, the small press is perhaps the most exciting part of the UK comics scene right now. All genres are covered from superhero tales like Vanguard and The Pride; to science fiction like Midnight Man or The Last Sheriff; there are crime books like white NOIR and Gateway City; fantastical books like NPC Tea and Flintlock; humour like Mooncop and Out of Time; horror with Mandy The Monster Hunter and Twisted Dark and everything in between. Publishers like Avery Hill and Good Comics push new creators to the fore. And It’s also a source of highly personal and intimate stories that help as much as they entertain, with books like Wired Up Wrong and Worry Wart leading the way in exploring issues of mental health. There’s something for everyone, so why not visit your local comic friendly convention like True Believers or Leamington, or check out websites like Pipedream Comics or A Place To Hang Your Cape or listen to podcasts like The Awesome Comics Podcast to find out more about this diverse and inclusive scene.