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Hall of Fame: Raymond Briggs

With our Hall of Fame category we aim to celebrate the most talented and influential figures from Britain’s rich comics tradition. Over time we hope it represents the very finest that British comics have to offer.

It wasn’t an easy choice for the Committee to choose the very first entrant into the Hall of Fame. From over a 100 years of history, of all the well known names and obscure talents, the masters and the auteurs, those who influenced the current generation and those who influenced them, who should we pick?

In the end we went with someone who is familiar to us all yet we rarely praise as an important figure in the history of British comics. Someone whose work is a timeless treasure we all fondly remember discovering for the first time.

Our first inductee to the British Comic Awards Hall of Fame is… Mr. Raymond Briggs.

Photograph by Liz Finlayson from the guardian.co.uk.

On hearing the news Mr. Briggs kindly sent us this email:

Ye Gods! Wizard prang! Top Hole! Bang On! etcetera. A great honour. Thank you very much indeed.

In 1949 when I applied to go to Wimbledon Art School, at the age of 15, at the interview the principal said: Tell me now, why do you want to come to my art school?
Well, sir – I said – I want to learn how to draw in order to become a cartoonist.
He went crimson in the face, stood up and roared at me: Good God, boy! Is that ALL you want to do?

Best Wishes,
Raymond Briggs.

Photograph by Felix Clay from the guardian.co.uk.

Briggs has had much success in his career, millions of children have loved his work, he has received many awards for his books and almost all of his work has been translated into many different languages and adapted into other mediums. Yet when we think of great British comic artists, his name is rarely the first to spring to mind, perhaps due to his affiliation with children’s picture books or the popularity of the animated adaptations of his work.

Raymond Redvers Briggs was born in Wimbledon, London in 1934 to Ethel and Ernest Briggs. He pursued cartooning from an early age, and after 2 years national service as a draughtsman he continued his studies and soon began work as a children’s book illustrator in 1958, age 24. He worked mainly in fairytale and nursery rhyme books and in 1966 started a long running relationship with British publishers Hamish Hamilton working on The Mother Goose Treasury providing nearly 900 colour illustrations for which he won his first Kate Greenaway Medal, an annual distinction for distinguished illustrations in a book for children.

In 1973, Briggs wrote and drew the comic, Father Christmas, published by Hamilton for which he won his second Kate Greenaway Medal.

Briggs’ rather British, working class Father Christmas was curmudgeonly rather than jolly, and the comedy came from his constant grumbling about all around him, especially the “bloomin’ snow”.

Two years later in 1975, Brigg’s produced a sequel Father Christmas Goes On Holiday following old Saint Nic as he travels the world looking for the perfect place to relax moving on each time he is recognised by local children.

In 1991 both Father Christmas books were jointly adapted as animated film.

In 1977 Brigg’s created Fungus the Bogeyman, again published by Hamilton, featuring a day in the life of a working class Bogeyman with the mundane job of scaring human beings. 24 years before Monsters Inc. Full of playful, gross out humour, it was a hit with children the world over. Sadly, the book inspired the 1980 song ‘Bogey Music‘ by Paul McCartney.

A year later in 1978, Briggs created perhaps his most enduring creation The Snowman. A beautiful silent comic about a boy who builds a snowman who comes to life and the playful friendship between them. The ending, like much of Briggs work, is a bittersweet and inevitable one, but he leaves us with a message of acceptance and embracing new experiences, and how not to forget them.

The book was illustrated with only pencil crayons and Briggs said it was partly inspired by his previous book:

For two years I worked on Fungus, buried amongst muck, slime and words, so… I wanted to do something which was clean, pleasant, fresh and wordless and quick.

Briggs was a Highly Commended runner up for his third Kate Greenaway Medal; no one has yet to win three.

In 1982 Channel 4 adapted The Snowman into an animated film which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. It has been shown every single year on British TV since.

Following the phenomenal success of The Snowman, Briggs started to write more adult stories starting with Gentlemen Jim in 1980, about toilet cleaner Jim Bloggs whose childlike dreams of changing his job to something more exciting start to get him in trouble with the law. Jim’s daydreaming gave Briggs the perfect opportunity to let his artwork flourish on the page and Gentlemen Jim remains one of the exemplary early graphic novels.

   

In 1982, Briggs gave us the absolutely heartbreaking When The Wind Blows in which he brings a nuclear war down on the now retired Jim and Hilda Bloggs, based very closely on Briggs’ own parents. At first their confusion is a source of light comedy but darker and more serious messages prevail as it becomes clear that the Government warnings are woefully inadequate and the elderly couple look after each other as they suffer from radiation sickness. The dense format of the page was inspired by a Swiss publisher’s miniature version of Father Christmas.

Again, When The Wind Blows was made into an animated film in 1986 with a title song by David Bowie.

Between 1982 and 2004 Briggs has produced many more books for adults and children including:

The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman (1984) a scathing denunciation of the Falklands War,

The Bear (1994) about a polar bear who befriends a little girl, which was again made into a animated film by Channel 4 in 1998,

and Ethel and Ernest: A True Story (1998). After the sad demise of the Bloggs couple, Briggs writes openly and affectionately about his parents’ life and their 41 year marriage, from their courtship in the 1920s, through the Great Depression, World War II, the advent of television, the birth of their son and up until their deaths in the early 70s. It could arguably be called Briggs’ masterpiece.

Nick Hornby said in a New York Times review of the book:

Social historians have said much less at much greater length, and with much less warmth and affection.

Ethel and Ernest won the “Best Illustrated Book Of The Year” at the 1999 British Book Awards.

And yes, an animated film is in development.

Briggs is still writing and illustrating today. In 2008 he said he was working:

On a book about old age and death, which is what you tend to think about when you get to 70. I’ve finished the writing. Now I’ve just got about five years of illustrating to do. The donkey work!

So hopefully we’ll see at least one more masterful comic from him, maybe next year.

Photograph by Jonathan Brady from thetimes.co.uk.

Raymond Briggs is an artist who has never been afraid to deal with sadness and death in either his books for adults or children, and he balances these darker aspects with the kindness, sweetness and common decency of his characters.

Whether he is making children howl with laughter at Father Christmas’ bum crack or making adults tear up at the pointless suffering of a lovely old couple, Briggs’ work never fails to have a deep emotional impact that stays with us for the rest of our lives.

He has been an uncompromising, daring, unique and generous cartoonist throughout his entire career and his stories, whether in book form or as animated films, have become treasured favourites of every generation all over Britain and across the globe.

Raymond Briggs is truly one of the greatest cartoonists our country has ever produced and we are very, very lucky indeed to have him.

Adam Cadwell.


4 Comments to Hall of Fame: Raymond Briggs

  1. Mary Galbraith

    A much belated comment…

    I’m glad to learn of this tribute to Mr. Briggs. However, your synopsis of The Snowman demonstrates a lack of familiarity with his “most enduring creation”:

    “A beautiful silent comic about a boy who builds a snowman who comes to life and flies him to the north pole to party with snowmen from around the world and Father Christmas himself.”

    The picture book The Snowman does not contain a trip to the north pole, a party with other snowmen, or a visit with Father Christmas.

    • Cadwell

      Hello Mary, thank you for your comment. We have editing the post accordingly. Please forgive this confusion between the book and animated film.

      • Mary Galbraith

        Thank you for responding to my comment. I’m a fan of the animated film, but it departs from Briggs’ own much starker and truer story.

The nomination process for this year’s Awards has now closed.

Thank you to the hundreds of people who emailed in with suggested titles.

Nominations for the 4th Annual British Comic Awards will open in January 2015.

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