One hundred thirty years ago, the first full-colour newspaper comic was published in the USA but only arrived in the UK by accident. This accident triggered the rise of comics in the UK, and now the Cartoon Museum is looking at how the USA and UK cartoonists influenced each other over the past century or so.

The accidental arrival of the New York World comics was due to unsold copies of the newspaper being used as heavy ballast in container ships heading to the UK and then being sold cheaply to local shops.

That odd trade in newspapers as ballast for shipping triggered an interest in UK newspapers in printing their own comics. However, unlike the USA, here in the UK comics were printed in B&W by newspapers, who wouldn’t move into colour print until the 1980s.

The Cartoon Museum’s exhibition focuses on one small, initially very American genre of comic—the superhero. Many early examples of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon from the 1930s are on display, but it would take the Brits until 1967 to come up with Dan Dare.

The exhibition explores the early use of syndication for American comics to be printed in the UK, but int he 1980s the flow started to reverse, with more edgy British comics and artists heading stateside.

I learned that in the USA, there was a self-censorship in comics — so much for the land of the free — whereas the UK comics were darker and more adult themed, which appealed to Americans tired of the sanitised comics they were fed.

As an exhibition, it’s a mix of informative history and nostalgia, looking at some old comics that many will recognise.

The exhibition, HEROES: The British invasion of American comics is at the Cartoon Museum until 19th October 2024.

The exhibition is included in the cost of visiting the museum, which, as I have moaned about previously, makes it a bit expensive if you’ve been to the museum before as the permanent display doesn’t change that much. Would be nice if they offered an exhibition only ticket as well.

  • Adults: £9.50
  • Concession (over 60 y/o): £6
  • Students: £4
  • Universal Credit: £2
  • Under-18s, ArtFund, London Pass, Members: Free

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6 comments
  1. Juno says:

    Hey, come on, Dan Dare’s older than I am! 1950ish, surely?

  2. harry says:

    I’m sure the beano and dandy were printed in colour around 1955 to 1960. Probably spot colour rather than CMYK, but certainly not just black and white.

    If they were only printed in black and white, how would we remember that Dennis The Menace always wore a red and white striped shirt?

    • John Fraser says:

      Harry, the shirt was red and black.

    • Juno says:

      I think the front and back pages were colour (was that Biffo and Jonah?), and some corresponding pages on the same sheet inside. But in Leo Baxendale’s day, I’m pretty sure he only got spot colour – red – for the Bash Street Kids and Minnie the Minx. I don’t think Dudley Watkins got colour at all for Lord Snooty. Greater use of colour came along later.

  3. Alex Mckenna says:

    A remember cheap American comics were sold at the Ajax Stores in Ilford around 1955.

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