The Primordial Soup: American vs. British comics

The world is filled with rivalries: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Pokemon Red vs. Pokemon Blue, Justice League vs. Avengers, butter side up vs. butter side down (you may laugh but they almost declared thermonuclear war in the book over this issue) and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Healthy rivalries give both sides something to work towards, the goal being to be better and more successful than the other.  It’s no small secret that the comic book industry is home to one of the biggest rivalries in entertainment, Marvel vs. DC, and talking about that little squabble and whether or not it really matters is an article all unto itself but today we are going to talk about something different.  Today we are going to talk about which country produces better comic books: America or Britain.

A quick explanation and a couple of ground rules.  The article will look at both sides of the debate and present the pros and cons of either side.  If you see something you disagree with or have a point to make please feel free to do so, just do it in a way that is constructive and beneficial to the conversation.  

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The Americans

Pro:

It’s no small secret that American comic books are kind of a big deal, in fact it’s pretty safe to say that the comic book as we know it (i.e a printed magazine with sequential art work designed to tell a story) is an American invention.

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And then we get to superheroes.  While superhero comics weren’t all that popular in the very early days of comics it didn’t take long for Action Comics #1 to change everything in 1938, introducing the man you all know so well that I don’t even have to say his name.

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In fact, there are so many famous characters that came out of American comics that to list them all would take months.

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Not only does the American scene have a superhero roster that dominates the comic book market but there is also a thriving independent scene with companies like Dark Horse and imprints like Vertigo delivering top notch non superhero comics.

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The way I see it, American comics are as varied as they are and as big as they because of what America is as a society.  While it may seem strange we have to understand that America is not a very old country.  We haven’t been around even 300 years which means we like to move forward and look to the future.  It’s that forward thinking attitude that lets us look at something like a cheap plup story and think “hey, that would make a really good multi million dollar movie” or “hey, why NOT write about a man who can bench press continents and stand for truth, justice, and the way of life our parents worked so hard for?”.  It’s that forward thinking, almost naive optimism that allowed America to create the genre and some of its most famous characters and it allowed the American comic book industry to flourish.

Con:

Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you necessarily have the skill or the talent to pull it off and make it a success.  It’s a generally accepted rule that when something is successful there will be a host of imitators trying to cash in on its popularity and this is especially true with comic books.  While the American industry has produced some of the greatest ideas every conceived it has also produced a lot of crap.

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The British

Pro:

While you could be forgiven to think that this debate heavily favors the American side it is important to remember that Great Britain has its own comic culture and its own comic book icons that are some of the greatest in the business today.  British writers like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaimen, and Alan Moore (who I am going to affectionately dub “The Magic Bros.” on account of their shared fascination with the strange and the occult) have not only produced some of the greatest comic book stories of all time, but some of the greatest stories of the modern age period.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look.

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It’s also worth noting that Mark Millar, who is currently one of the most successful comic book movie creators, is Scottish and his violent and gory offerings are helping to shape what a comic book movie is.

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Now I’m not British so I really can’t explain why Britain produces such great writers but if I had to guess it’s because of Britain’s history and connection to their past.  Whether you miss it or hate it the British Isles once dominated a quarter of the globe and have turned out some of the greatest writers in human history.  When you’re part of a culture that once ruled the Earth and produced literary geniuses like Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, and Eliot AND authors that defined genres like Tolkein, Conan Doyle, Orwell, and Clarke you respect the history and traditions that made it great.  Great Britain has produced some of the greatest writers of all time and it only makes sense that this seemingly natural talent translates over to comics as well.

Cons:

Name one British comic book series that is even as remotely iconic as a hero like Superman or Batman.

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Okay maybe, but can you name another?

Britain’s history and culture is one of its greatest strengths it is also a crippling weakness as well.  When you become too wrapped up in tradition and the way things are supposed to be you wind up stifling a lot of creative potential for something new.  Sure these traditions helped create a writer like Gran Morrison but it is no coincidence that Grant Morrison has done some of his most famous and best known work for American comic books.

So what do you think?  Does skill and tradition trump the desire for something new and a willingness to try new things?  Is it better to move forward and push the boundaries of what’s possible or devote your energy into honing your skill on an established piece of work?  Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share. 

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