DC Hill's Top 10 British Comics
I'm very thankful to have been born at a time when the British comics industry was still thriving. If you walk into a newsagent today then you'll probably find a load of garish polybagged magazines masquerading as comics, but it's mostly pieces of plastic tat that come with a bunch of adverts and the occasional comic strip thrown in. My inner child recoils in horror, and fondly remembers the days when comics were comics. My hope is that, one day, there will be a comic book revival (akin to that of vinyl records) and kids can appreciate the beauty of the printed comic as millions of children have done over the years.
As I was born in the 70s then this list is predominantly comics from the 80s. Yes, I read and enjoyed comics of the late 70s but I appreciated comics much more as a ten-year-old than I did as a five-year-old.
The following isn't based on sales or popular opinion, it's a personal top ten of the comics that I most enjoyed as a child - so if you're of a certain age then I'm sure you have your own list.
We kick off with a weird one as it’s not one title but a collection of very similar titles from one publisher.
10. Astounding Stories, Creepy Worlds, Secrets of the Unknown, Sinister Tales, Suspense Stories and Uncanny Tales (1980s)
Alan Class Comics was a British comics publishing company that produced several anthology titles [between 1959 and 1989] which were reprints of US comics from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. I could never find these titles in my local newsagent, but they seemed widely available on my childhood holidays to Suffolk. I’ve always been a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, and these comics were in a similar storytelling vein. They also bring back fond memories of my childhood holidays, where I’d sit in the chalet and happily read for hours. So I’m sure my parents loved them too.
9. Fantastic Four (1982 - 1983)
Yes, the movies are pretty dreadful, and the cartoon series [sans Human Torch] was rather unmemorable, but I’ve always loved the Fantastic Four. I’m sure this was possibly sparked by the marvel Pocket Book series in 1980, and I now only have to look at some of those covers to get that warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling.
The UK title came along in that golden period of the early eighties, when I was really starting to appreciate comics. The shiny glossy covers and colour interiors were a far cry from the earlier Marvel UK titles, while the occasional free gift certainly did no harm.
8. Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine (1979 - Present)
The only comic based on a live-action television series to make this list. Strictly speaking, I didn’t start seriously collecting the title until 1988, when it was more of a ‘magazine’ than a comic - and I haven’t purchased a copy for donkey’s years… but let’s not get too pedantic here… I have some early childhood memories of Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly - especially the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) strips.
I watched the TV series every week with Peter Davison in the title role, but drifted away for a few years, until publicity surrounding the 25th anniversary had me hooked again. And once the TV series was cancelled (in 1989) the magazine/comic gave me my much needed fix of the Doctor Who universe.
7. Scream! (1984)
For a comic that only ran for 15 [weekly] issues, this one sure made a huge impact on my ten-year-old self. Far from being a superhero title, this was a gritty horror anthology with the cover line “Not for the nervous”. It featured around nine stories each week, including continuing stories like Monster and The Thirteenth Floor, alongside self-contained strips like Tales From the Grave and Library of Death. It wasn’t enough to scar anyone for life, but it was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I developed such a rapport with this comic that I actually remember walking into my local newsagent in 1984 only to be told that it had been cancelled because it was “too scary” for children. However, it later transpired that this was hogwashery. Scream! actually fell victim to an industrial dispute [along with several other IPC titles] and didn’t survive the hiatus.
Scream! later merged with Eagle in September 1984, but it was a rather “low-key” affair - with only two Scream! stories making it to their new home. However, Max the computer (from The Thirteenth Floor) proved to be a hit with the readers and he went on to 'edit' the title.
In 2017, over 30 years after its untimely demise, Scream! returned with the one-off Halloween special Scream! and Misty. This title proved so successful that it returned with a second issue in 2018, and could now become a regular fixture in the British comics calendar.
6. Beano, Beezer, Dandy, School Fun, Whizzer and Chips
I’ve listed the “funnies” as one entry, because I read all of the above on a regular basis and it would be impossible for me to single one out. My pocket money certainly didn’t extend to collecting them all, so I’d dip into each title every week, and loved them in equal measure.
Okay, if someone put a gun to my head then it’d have to be The Beano. I became a member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club, and Roger the Dodger, Billy Whizz, and Bash Street Kids were some of my favourite characters.
5. Secret Wars and Secret Wars II (1985 - 1987)
Spider-Man, Hulk, Avengers, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four [and a number of villains] are whisked off to another galaxy, far, far away. No, not that one. An omnipotent being known as “The Beyonder” dumps the Marvel superheroes and villains on “Battleworld” - a world where they must do battle. Yes, I’m sure the writers had sleepless nights over what to call the planet. And no, Hulk was not a member of the Avengers at the time, so I listed him separately.
I seem to recall walking into a newsagent and seeing this comic featuring Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, et al… and my jaw dropped. To be honest, they had me at Spider-Man.
The original Secret Wars ran for 31 weekly issues (between April 1985 and February 1986) and reprinted the original US 12 issue limited series of the same name. The great thing about the UK editions were the beautiful covers, free gifts, and backup strips, which introduced me to the Canadian superhero team, Alpha Flight. I also loved “Secret Artist” which featured an unidentified character breaking into the Marvel offices and drawing a caricature of a different hero or villain each week.
Issue 32 onwards reprinted Secret Wars II, which ran for 49 issues [up until issue 80 in January 1987]. The great thing about Secret Wars II (UK) was that it printed the entire saga in one publication - whereas the US version was a crossover series that appeared in multiple titles.
4. Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (1978 - 1986)
Star Wars Weekly launched in 1978, two years before I saw my first Star Wars film (The Empire Strikes Back) and several years before I began reading comics. I’d picked up a few issues of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back Weekly, but Return of the Jedi was the first that I collected religiously. I absolutely adored some of the covers to the earlier comics, but when Jedi was launched in 1983, I was nine-years-old and ready to really embrace and appreciate the stories. And when it later adapted the original Star Wars I grew to love it even more.
3. Transformers (1984 - 1992)
My memory of where and when I first discovered Transformers is a little sketchy, but the denizens of Cybertron consumed my childhood. The comic. The toys. The TV series. The movie. The movie soundtrack. Few franchises had such a hold on my life - or my parent’s bank account.
The UK edition reprinted stories from the original US comic, but it also featured original material from homegrown talent, like writer Simon Furman and artist Geoff Senior. And had someone told me that one day I’d be having a beer with the guy who wrote all these amazing stories then my head would have imploded. And not because I'd one day be drinking beer.
As with all Marvel UK titles of that era, Transformers featured some great back-up strips (Machine Man, Iron Man, Inhumanoids) and even merged with Action Force [another of my favourite comics] in 1988.
For reasons that I can’t quite recall, I stopped buying the comic in 1989, but it ran for a total of eight years and 332 issues before folding in 1992. The final [monthly] US edition even featured the cover line: #80 in a four issue limited series. So it certainly exceeded all expectations.
We only had to wait another fifteen years before Michael Bay came along and ruined everything. #controversial
2. The Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly, Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly, Super Spider-Man TV Comic, Spider-Man and Zoids (1980-1987)
I loved Batman and Superman, but Spider-Man is the only standalone superhero that makes this list because I’ve always identified more with the character. Batman’s alter-ego was a billionaire playboy, while Superman was an alien from the planet Krypton, so Peter Parker [the nerdy photographer] made me believe that you didn’t need money or superhuman strength to become a superhero. You just needed to be bitten by a radioactive spider… and Bob’s your uncle. Well, Ben.
There’s been a myriad of Spider-Man comics over the years, so I’ve just listed all my childhood favourites. The Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly introduced me to the character in comic book form, Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly combined my two favourite Marvel characters… Super Spider-Man TV Comic capitalised on the success of the TV series (which I loved)… and Spider-Man and Zoids rekindled my love of Spider-Man after a period where I thought I might be “too old” for the character. Pffft. The latter also followed hot on the heels of Secret Wars, which also lead me to collecting the American comic books (that’s a list for another time).
The early British Spider-Man comics were also predominantly printed in black and white, so I always had hours of fun colouring in Spidey’s iconic red and blue costume. Sacrilege.
1. Eagle (1982 - 1994)
In March 1982 I walked into a newsagent in Staple Tye shopping centre, Harlow, with my mum, and was instantly drawn to this shiny new comic sitting on the shelf. The fact that I can remember this detail says a lot about why Eagle comes in at number one on my list.
At the time I had no idea that this title ran throughout the 50s and 60s, and that my dad enjoyed it as a boy. Despite the fact that Dan Dare had graced the pages of 2000AD from 1977 to 1979, the character was new to me. I was only three when 2000AD launched, so far too young to appreciate such a comic, and despite being a huge Sci-Fi fan, it never really appealed to me in later years. Yet there I was, now almost eight years old, and ready for the more ‘grown up’ characters like Doomlord, Manix, House of Daemon, and the Twilight Zone-esque The Collector.
I stuck with Eagle throughout the 1980s, and grew to love it even more when they ditched the photo-stories and merged with several other titles that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was during my last year in primary school when I started to be picked on by my fellow pupils, so I turned to comics as my means of escape. I’d sit in my bedroom for hours feasting on the stories and when I look back at them today all I feel is a sense of unbridled joy. Eagle was published every Monday, but my local newsagent always received copies on Thursday morning… so I’d make a beeline to the shop before school to pick up the latest issue. I’m sure Thursday is still my favourite day of the week because of this.
There was only one brief period [in 1984] when I missed several issues, and I vividly recall writing to Eagle requesting back issues, and asking where to send the postal order. Some time later I received a batch of Eagle comics with a typed note reading ‘Free copies to a loyal reader’ and I think I may have exploded with joy. I later received several packages from Eagle, and had my name printed in the comic on numerous occasions. I received a £5 postal order, a painting set, and a number of other prizes. However, my crowning achievement was having my drawing printed in the January 1989 issue of Eagle and Mask, and being the proud recipient of a Paul Daniels Magic set. I later mentioned this to Paul Daniels on Twitter, and he 'liked' it (but probably not a lot).
Yes, the title went off the rails in the early 90s when it felt the need to rebrand itself as The New Eagle, and it didn't hold the same appeal... but, to be fair, I was then in my late teens, at an age when girls held far more appeal.
After going monthly it became a collection of reprints from the 1980s, but, in my eyes, Eagle was truly the last great British comic. I pray that, one day, it will return. And if I ever became a millionaire I'd buy the rights and launch the thing myself.