The Great British Newspaper Adventure Strip

July 31st, 2012 | comics talk

Yes, of course other countries have their own adventure strip tradition.  But I’m British. And this has been stuck in my head since a friend of mine told me he was going to have a try at doing one on the web.  Moving newspaper strip traditions to the web isn’t new either, naturally.  But the great majority of such instances have been in the mode of the comedy strip.  I don’t remember too many instances, and even fewer successful ones, of trying something like this:

Written by Peter O’Donnell, and, in its classic era, illustrated by the magnificent Jim Holdaway.

Newspaper strips were where the great comics artists lived.  GARTH, which I think was originated by Stephen Dowling and Gordon Boshell (some places cite only Dowling), rejoiced in the linework of legends like Frank Bellamy and Martin Asbury.

These all issue, of course, from a time when people read a newspaper every day: by which I mean reading through an entire and single disposable compendium of information.  And once you got through the news and features, you reached the entertainment part of the object, where these lay.  And you did that every day.  So it was possible to do a flavour of serialised storytelling.  Especially when, as in the Bellamy example above, the single strip was a little bit of art in its own right.

Sydney Jordan’s JEFF HAWKE (with, in its classic period, writing by Wiliam Patterson) helps me emphasise something: these strips tended to be a bit weird.  MODESTY BLAISE was, as spy/crime dramas go, a bit baroque and quirky.  GARTH was a time-traveller. JEFF HAWKE was a space pilot who ended up as a sort of unofficial ambassador for Earth in a universe gone mad.  Because British popular culture supported that even in the days of black-and-white.  HAWKE and BLAISE, particularly, were relatively sophisticated stuff.

In the modern day, it seems like a hard thing to pull off.  It’s not just there in your chosen news and information provision.  You’ve got to go out and select it, and you don’t get a big chunk every day.  It actually brings me back to the thinking about webcomics I did back in May, because of the obvious comparison between these shapes above and:

The example above being from Rucka & Burchett’s LADY SABRE.  The above is a single piece.  Each new episode of LADY SABRE is in fact the rough size of two newspaper strip episodes.  But it’s not daily.  It’s Mondays and Thursdays.  In theory, then, one weekday of LADY SABRE provides four days’ worth of newspaper strip content.

The fact that they use the larger block, roughly commensurate with half a US-standard comics page, does let them do things like this:

And that is also suggestive of the larger-sized “weekend” episode you’d see in the States.

This all circles around, really, to the nature of serialised fiction in the contemporary: also, I think, there’s something in here about the ways in which serial drama comics lost their hold on the mass audience by moving into the monthly form.  Weekly and daily is how television does it.  Books and films have their own special nature.  Monthly kind of flops down with magazines, which are disposable in a different way to newspapers.  They’re not a constant heartbeat presence in our lives.

A newspaper-style strip has long been on my list of Things To Do One Day.  I did, after all, get to scratch my Weekly Science Fiction Comic Serial off that list.  It wouldn’t necessarily even have to be in classical strip format.  But a daily strip in that general mode.  Story as pulse.


One Response to “The Great British Newspaper Adventure Strip”

  1. [...] The Great British Newspaper Adventure Strip I am basically down for any time Warren Ellis wants to talk about formats and comics writing. This one is a bit of a repeat after his early discussion of webcomics formats but also adds a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about adventure newspaper strips in England. [...]