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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Top Ten British Comic Book Characters

This is a personal list and is not intended to be an indication of the best characters ever created in British comics, although many of those in my selection undoubtedly are. 
I started reading comics in the 1970’s and stopped sometime during the mid 80’s. 
Of course I would return to comic book reading and these days regularly read several titles. 
However the top ten (in no particular order)  that follows is heavily influenced by that first burst of 
comic book reading and as such reflects the style of comics 
that were my personal preference.

10- Dennis the Menace – the American Dennis the Menace was a slightly mischievous cute kid, the British one was a true hard bastard. I was only an occasional reader of the Beano but whenever I picked up a copy,  this and the Bash Street Kids were my favourite stories. I can still read Dennis the Menace strips now, though the current version lacks the bite of the 1970’s version I grew up with. Our Dennis used to kick softy arse and terrorise anyone over the age of twenty and usually ended his misadventures by receiving a slipper from Dad or a cane from teacher. My my times have changed - these days Dennis would be diagnosed with ADHD and his parents would get a fortune in extra benefits.

9 – Lord Peter Flint AKA Warlord. Of course Peter Flint was basically James Bond in a World War II setting, but the strip was always exciting. Of course the fact that Peter Flint was the president of the Warlord Secret Agent club of which you could join via a cut out coupon in the comic, made him seem all the more real. Lord Peter Flint was a dashing, tea drinking, English super spy with a penchant for the finer things in life.

8 – Walter the Wobot. The robot with a speech impediment was a favourite of mine. He initially provided comic relief in the brutal Judge Dredd Robot Wars storyline, but he spun off into occasional humorous solo strips in 2000AD. Walter was blindly loyal to Judge Dredd and as I stopped reading 2000AD many years ago, I don’t know what really happened to the character. The last I heard he was doing the reading for the audio-book of The Autobiography of Jonathon Ross but he doesn’t seem to be around these days.

 7 - Bill Savage - Easily my favourite character from classic 2000AD. Bill was a lorry driver who turned into a one man army when his family were killed during the Volgan invasion of Britain which occurred in 1999. Created by Pat Mills the first run of Invasion ran for 51 issues. I was devastated when Bill Savage vanished from the comic book and when he did return in a prequel set during a period where London was flooded by polar ice caps it just wasn't the same. Bill did return to form in the Savage storyline which started in 2004, though and as since reestablished himself as a popular character in the modern 2000AD magazine.

6- Roy Race - When I was reading the character he was the player/manager of Melchester Rovers and had his own comic, Roy of the Rovers. He was devastatingly handsome in a 1970's rock star kind of way and he had awesome skills on the footie pitch. I didn't know then that the character had a long history and had originally appeared in Tiger in the 1950's before getting his own comic.

 5 - Dan Dare - each generation has their own hero and my Dan Dare was not the classic character but the revamp which appeared in 2000AD. In fact when 2000AD launched I don't think I was even aware of the original Dan Dare and the Eagle comic in which he appeared. I would only discover these later through reprints and the odd Eagle annual I picked up in secondhand shops.  The first instalment of 2000AD's new Dan Dare was scripted by Ken Armstrong and Pat Mills, and saw the character revived from suspended animation after two hundred years to find himself in a different world. The Mekon had also survived but otherwise the cast was different, as was the tone of the strip (heavily influenced by the punk movement, as was much of 2000 AD) and the personality of the title character. Written by Kelvin Gosnell and then Steve Moore, was far more sardonic than the original Dan Dare. The strip was initially illustrated by Massimo Bellardinelli, whose Dare owed nothing to the original apart from the wavy eyebrows.
4 - D Day Dawson - this character, his strip which appeared in Battle Picture Weekly, was one of my all time favorites - indeed the central premise of the story  influenced my novel, The Ballad of Delta Rose. The story told of Sgt. Steve Dawson who was shot on the Beaches of Normandy during the D-Day landings. However he survived but has a bullet lodged close to his heart, that will eventually kill him. With nothing to lose Dawson vows to fight on.

3-Dredger- I loved the Dredger strip which first appeared in the controversial, Action until the comic's demise and then made it's way over to Battle. The later creation of Judge Dredd owes a lot to Dredger - even their names were similar.

2 - Judge Dredd - You've got to love Judge Dredd, even if he is the biggest fascist in a fascist state. The character is perhaps the UK's only comic book character able to challenge the dominance of the American hold on comic book action heroes. He's something of a mystery - we've never seen what he looks like beneath that helmet - well as long as you ignore the dreadful Stallone movie version. Created in the mid 1970's, during a period of great unrest between the British populace and the government, a time when there was the very real feeling of revolution in the air, a time when Britain was sliding towards total anarchy, the strip was a clever satire on state control. Set initially in a future New York which eventually morphed into Mega City One- a sprawling metropolis that covered most of the Eastern United States, Dredd has gone on to become a true institution - So great is the character's name recognition that his name is sometimes invoked over similar issues to those explored by the comic series, such as the police state, authoritarianism and the rule of law.
1-Charley Bourne - created by Pat Mills and drawn by Joe Calquhoun, Charley's War is far more than a comic strip. It can hold its place amongst all of the great literature and films dealing with the first world war. Charley's War tells the story of an underage British soldier called Charley Bourne. Charley joins the British Army during World War I at the age of 16 (having lied about his age and told the recruiting officers that he was 18) and is quickly thrust into the Battle of the Somme.Everything about this strip was different to the usual war strips - it didn't rely on square jawed heroics, but rather presented the conflict in a realistic way and tackled subjects that were never previously covered in comic strips. So important is the strip in the evolution of comics that is has often been called, the greatest comic strip of all time.

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