I can still recall, aged five or six, being taken out by my nanny to catch a train for a visit to the Science Museum at London – a favourite destination of mine at that age. On the way to our suburban station was a newsagent’s shop, with current titles and the day’s papers displayed at the door. One item caught my attention immediately: a coloured comic, most of the front page of which was covered with a superbly painted disintegrating spaceship. Apart from the fact that the presentation was streets better than anything else in my experience, the impact was immediate. I duly expended fourpence of my very limited pocket money (6d = 2.5p) on a copy and was hooked. I read it, later supplemented by the Beano (founded 1938), thanks to my parents’ forebearance in adding it to the newsagent’s delivery, until I was sent away to prep school four years later.
The reason it was so superior was that Eagle was printed in colour photogravure (aided by Eric Bemrose) on good quality paper with artwork of superb quality by Frank Hampson. The founder and editor was Revd. Marcus Morris a Lancashire parson and Christian values informed the content without being either apparent or tiresome. This content was itself pleasing to me: PC 49, the bumbling Harris Tweed and his piratical oppo, Capt. Pugwash (later of TV fame), Luck of the Legion, not to mention Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future (flying through space quite effortlessly in the year 2000 which I felt perfectly plausible) pitting himself against the Venusian tyrant Mekon on his flying potty, not to mention Vora King of Space and other implacable adversaries, all supported by Spaceman Digby and Spacewoman Peabody. I also like the wonderfully well drawn cutaway version of transport wonders in the middle, especially when they dissected a Southern Pacific and put it in the original livery, three years after nationalisation!
The Eagle, launched in 1950, was by no means that early a starter, for my second choice, the Beano (which gave me a more light-hearted view of the world), began in 1938, and I preferred it to its rival the Dandy, a year older, despite my enjoyment of Desperate Dan and his cow pies. The former survives, the latter which ended in 2012. Not for me, though, the Boys’ Own Paper, however (a little too earnest), which lasted from 1879 to 1967. Later after having to go and live with my seven cousins in the early 1960s, I was re-introduced to Eagle (much reduced in quality), along with its stablemates, Girl, Robin and Swift.
Space precludes any attempt to adumbrate upon the virtues or otherwise of Beezer (1956-1993), Lion (1952-1974), Valiant (1962-1976), Knockout (1939-1963), Rover (1922-1973), Tiger (1954-1985), Topper (1953-1990) or indeed a poor thing called TV Comic (1951-1984) but back numbers of all (and others) are collectible and have a (generally modest) value. Funnily enough the Eagle attracts less money than some of the others, mainly because of its quality and popularity. It sold well (no. 1 sold out, 900,000!) and quality paper meant that it is far more durable than most. No. 1 would go today for around £150, later issues of the first volume (1950-51) around £70-£90 in mint condition but less than £10 in average state.
Contrast this with Beano and Dandy: both were published by D C Thompson and the first one of each came with a (very modest) free gift, with Dandy a whistle and with Beano the following year a mask. Both, I might add, have been copied to deceive. Their appeal, magnified during the war, was irreverence and slapstick. Over ten years ago the former, complete and in good condition made £20,350, whereas one has to go back near 20 years to find a price for a first issue Beano, when one (with pressie) made £6,280, although you could comfortably double that figure today. In 1951 Dennis the Menace was introduced and the relevant issue might fetch £350 -£400 at auction, although by the time he had been promoted to the cover, his value in mint will have dropped to around £15. Dandy’s early issues vary (through condition) from £40 to £300, but the first four issues again can reach four figures, with later pre-war issues £1-20 and later still, just pence up to £5 and more recent ones no higher than £2.
There are websites devoted to all the minutiae of these comics’ publication history, which one does need to have to hand to enjoy collecting them, but unless you have found a landmark issue in a vile state, just look out at your local car boot or general sales (such as we run fortnightly at Bamford’s) for editions in decent condition, from very fine to pristine.
Most of these publications also produced annuals, and these too are highly collectable. Eagle’s first, in 1951 will make over £1000 in mint condition, although £40 should buy a worn copy, with declining values for subsequent issues, none of which are that rare due to the quantity published. Beano started its annual in 1940 with the war on and whilst a tatty one might be had for under £500, a near-mint one would be worth nearer £4000 and the remaining wartime issues tell a similar story, although with slightly diminished values.
The variety of published comics is such that collecting old issues can be quite rewarding, especially if you really enjoy browsing the content, an inclination often exacerbated by an affliction called nostalgia. The only thing to say is, do your research first and then seek out the very earliest (or best landmark) issues you can and where possible in the very best condition. You should not have to pay too much on the whole, and buying miscellaneous bundles often reveals better condition copies (or rarities) within, which can be a good way of proceeding. Then one can extract the items one wants and put the remainder back into auction or onto e-bay.