In the week that we lost a comics genius in Raymond Briggs, we celebrate his work in a very special Art For Art’s Sake…
He may have been best known for 1978’s The Snowman (and the animated adaptation that you can catch everywhere on tele every Christmas), but Raymond Briggs’ legacy and impact on comics is hugely important – especially here in Britain where it could easily be argued that his Father Christmas (1973) was the very first British graphic novel.
Throughout this weekend, I’m waxing lyrical on the man and his work, how important he was to my comics reading and development and how damn brilliant his many comic books were.
Born in 1934 in Wimbledon Park to Ethel and Ernest (whose lives he would later go on to tell in the simply wonderful book of the same name), Briggs entered work in advertising after his National Service before moving into children’s book illustration, beginning with Ruth Manning-Sander’s fairy anthology Peter and the Piskies: Cornish Folk and Fairy Tales.
A number of other illustration jobs followed before Briggs decided, quite rightly, that he could do a fair better job of creating and drawing his own stories… something he would continue to do for the next 50+ years.
He may have started out as a children’s book illustrator, but he made his true make in the artistic world with his comics, beginning from 1973’s Father Christmas. As I’ve mentioned previously, his work is all too often overlooked when people talk of comics, simply because he was a trailblazer who worked in children’s comics. Of course, today, with the huge success of Dav Pilkey, Raina Telgemeier et al, children’s comics are quite rightly a massive part of the industry and celebrated as such. But back then, not so much.
Not that that stopped Briggs’s books from becoming hugely successful, read by children and adults, selling millions upon millions of copies around the world, and making Briggs a household name, particularly with the enormous success of The Snowman in 1978.
His initial work was in children’s books and later children’s comics, including the wonderfully grumpy Father Christmas of 1973 and its follow-up Father Christmas Goes on Holiday (1975), the absolutely perfectly gross Fungus The Bogeyman (1977), and the aforementioned The Snowman in 1978. But Briggs’s work in the 1980s moved away from this, first with 1980’s Gentleman Jim, the first appearance of Jim and Hilda Bloggs, who were obviously modelled on his own parents, and then in the brutal and brilliant, horrifying and incredible When The Wind Blows (1982), a chilling look at nuclear war, again featuring Jim and Hilda.
He followed this with an equally brutal, thinly disguised (if at all) take on Margaret Thatcher in 1984’s The Tin Pot General and the Old Iron Woman. Again, Briggs never failed to put his heart and his thoughts into his work.
In the years after that, Briggs’s comics and books regularly appeared, whether for children or adults (or both), including Unlucky Wally (1987), Unlucky Wally 20 Years On (1989), The Man (1992), and The Bear (1994) before, in 1998, Briggs returned to the story of his parents in the beautiful and biographical Ethel & Ernest: A True Story, one of my personal favourites and a book that never fails to make me cry.
Into the 2000s, Briggs was still making comics, including Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age (2001) and The Puddleman (2004), but he effectively retired from making comics and drawing, with his final books, Notes from the Sofa (2014) and Time For Lights Out (2019) being collections of writing and illustrations with just the odd bit of comics in there – not that this makes them any less important though – in fact, Time for Lights Out is every bit as powerful, in its way, as many of his previous works, an honest, humorous, and poignant look at ageing and what it means to be reaching the end of your days.
So, Raymond Briggs, master storyteller, master artist, a true genius of the comic art – we will miss you. You brought all that read your books so much, laughter, tears, sadness, joy, horror, anger, grumpiness, and wonder. Thank you sir.
Now, just a little of what made Raymond Briggs one of the all-time greats of comics, taking a look through his work over the years…
Father Christmas (1973)
Father Christmas Goes on Holiday (1975)
Fungus the Bogeyman (1977)
The Snowman (1978)
Gentleman Jim (1980)
When the Wind Blows (1982)
The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman (1984)
Unlucky Wally (1987)
Unlucky Wally 20 Years On (1989)
The Man (1992)
The Bear (1994)
Ethel & Ernest: A True Story (1998)
Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age (2001)
The Puddleman (2004)
Notes from the Sofa (2014)
Time For Lights Out (2019)
And finally, this from Chris Ridell…
And this from Steven Camley –